Thursday, 14 November

Saudi Sheikh Revives Plan to Build Water Bottling Plant in Armenia: Construction Advances Despite Lack of Water Usage Permit

Sheikh Muhammed Musallami, from Saudi Arabia, has decided to go ahead with plans to build a water bottling plant in Artavaz, a village in Armenia’s Kotayk Province.

In 2012, Armenia’s Ministry of Nature Protection granted, A&M Rare, Ltd, water usage rights. That permit expired in 2015, so the company had to file another application to use the fresh water and mineral springs of the Ulashik River basin. That application is now being reviewed by the ministry.

The ministry allowed Hetq to look at the project documents. Accordingly, water will be taken from two springs for a total of 4.6 liters per second.

Some background information is in order.

In 2010, the Armenian government allocated 96 hectares delineated as public domain lands to the company. Property belonging to 126 of the 150 families living in Artavaz were seized, along with lands belonging to seven families in the nearby village of Pyunik.

In 2011, the Armenian government allocated another 148 hectares of forest land to A&M Rare, founded by A&M Investment, a company registered in Luxembourg. At the time, the executive director of A&M Rare was Aram Abrahamyan; son of Republican Party MP Gagik Abrahamyan, who, in turn, is the brother of Ara Abrahamyan, president of the Union of Armenians in Russia and a wealthy entrepreneur to boot.

However, according to the state corporate registry of Armenia’s justice ministry, Abrahamyan ceased serving as director in 2013. He was replaced by Amin Jafar Jazaeri, a Saudi citizen. Hetq has yet to ascertain the names of Musallami’s new partners. He has evidently found some in Armenia and has relaunched efforts designed to get the bottling plant plan up and running.

The original investment plan was presented to the Armenian government by Swiss Rare S.A. Sheikh Muhammed Musallami is president of the Swiss company.

In the project file, there was a bulletin, dated September 24, 2016, penned by A. Avagyan, chief of the Hrazdan Water Committee addressed to Vahan Davtyan, who heads the environmental ministry’s water management service. Avagyan writes that construction work restarted in May 2016. The dispatch also contains photos (below) of catchment systems being installed.

Eventually, the water will be sent to the bottling plant via pipes. Artavaz Mayor Rem Hovhannisyan says that 6-7 water catchment units have already been installed and pipes laid.

“This year they will finish building (the factory-KA). Much work has been done. They worked six months till the rains came,” said Hovhannisyan.

Today, a public hearing on the project was scheduled at the environmental ministry. It seems it never took place because no objections or opinions were presented in writing. When Hetq asked how could the company install catchments and pipes without having received a water usage permit, ministry staffers gave conflicting answers.

“Since the company doesn’t have a water usage permit, it has no permission to conduct any activities, said Vahan Davtyan, who heads the ministry’s water management service.

“But it has the right to carry out construction work on its land, added Sevak Matilyan, temporary manager of the ministry’s water usage permit division.

Hetq then specifically asked if the company has the right to install catchment systems. Matilyan answered with a question of his own, “It has no right to use water. To what extent can installing catchment systems be regarded as using water?” He added, “The company has a right to lay pipes on its property, but not water pipes.”

According to Armenia’s Water Code, water usage implies taking water from the country’s water resources, including the utilization of fresh water or decreasing water supplies by other means, collecting water, impeding or diverting the flow of water, spilling pollutants into the water, as well as modifying the banks, flows, bottoms of water resources or their characteristics.

Surely, building catchments all over the area will do just this.

At the hearing, A&M Rare was represented by Armen Ter-Tachatyan, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Converse Bank. He said he serves as the director of the company’s foreign legal affairs office. Also representing the company were attorney Nvard Manoukyan and Artashes Aghinyan, a hydro-geologist.

“A new pipe has been installed and the entire network has been rebuilt. The old catchment was substandard, not corresponding to potable water, so a new one has been built according to European standards. Bottling is the aim. The flow of the river will not change. The river will flow as before,” Aghinyan claimed.

Ter-Tachatyan tried to convince us that work on the catchment units had started when the company’s first water usage permit was in force. But, as we’ve noted above, A. Avagyan, head of the Hrazdan Water Committee, in his dispatch says that work to install the catchments started in May 2016, when the water usage permit had already expired.

P.S. 25 Artavaz residents have filed suits with the European Court of Human Rights, asking that their property rights be restored. Attorney Mariam Ghoulyan, who represents the residents, says that the cases are in the process of being reviewed.


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