2019 August 19
Anti-Corruption & News - Aug/19/2019 ::: Amulsar Mining -- How it begun -- AYEs vs NAYs -- What is ELRAD -- How much pollution is OK? -- Pashinyan speech ::: Russia shelters a fugitive former official ::: HALO Trust ::: Illegal logging ::: WCIT 2019 ::: More border improvements ::: NSS vs Mayor
Disclaimer: All the accused are innocent until proven guilty by the court of law, even if they may sound as being guilty. Currency in Armenian Drams unless specified otherwise.
Welcome to today's news edition. Your one-stop place for drama, mining, politics and action-adventure . 🍿
In 2014, [British?] mining company Lydian received a license and begun investing $0.5bln to later begin mining of gold on Amulsar hills. After the revolution, the new government suspected that the old Nature Ministry deliberately hid safety risks to give the mine a green light.
A year-long abuse of power and environmental impact examination showed no felony acts, but found 16 safety improvement areas that Lydian is urged to implement. Lydian seems to have agreed.
Examination showed that the mine's polluted waters will not flow into the nearby mineral waters of Jermuk city or lake Sevan, because no underground pathways exist. In the event of a large earthquake, only "very small amount" could escape, said the Investigative Committee which reviewed the international ELARD nature examination firm's conclusion. Environmental activists and Jermuk city residents continue to demand the mine's shutdown. They are urging the government to close it.
Various ruling party QP MPs have different opinions whether Amulsar mine (hereby Amulsar) should be operated or not. Some have questioned the interpretation of the safety examination results which gave Amulsar a green light. Others say it shows the risks are manageable if the miner takes more steps. Others say the mine got its license years ago when it was easier to obtain one, and investments have already been made, so the mining can begin now but in future it'll be harder to get such licenses as the new administration shifts the focus from mining to other areas of the economy.
A geologist says the mine has strong safety measures to prevent the waste from pouring into nearby Jermuk waterways. He says there are other significantly more dangerous objects other than Amulsar, and that the concern around Amulsar is overblown.
Another geologist agrees the extra safety measures imposed by the examination will be enough, and that driving cars on the street (referring to protesters) and saying "no" isn't going to "change the facts"
Environmental activists say the examination was done mainly based on the information provided by the mine's operator and is "misleading".
An environmental protection group says not all info was made public by the Investigative Committee, and they want to see the full documents submitted by ELARD examiner.
Flashback 2018: US ambassador Richard Mills urged the government to respect the $0.5bln investment by the firm and allow it to proceed, saying the miner has the necessary safety measures. If allowed to proceed, it will become the largest taxpayer and many people will have a job, said Mills in 2018.
A group of residents from Jermuk drove to Yerevan. A protest was held on front of the Parliament building.
Opposition party leaders from BHK, LHK, Sasna Tsrer and several non-Parliamentary forces have joined the protesters.
6 people were detained for breaking various rules and not following police instructions after they begun to walk on Baghramyan street, shutting down the traffic, says police. Human Rights Ombudsman office said excessive use of force was displayed by the police during their detention. One activist had an arrhythmia later while in a police station, and was transported to a hospital.
QP MP Babken Tunyan says if Amulsar mine doesn't operate after receiving this positive examination report, then according to that logic, no mine can operate in Armenia. He said as long as the mine follows the safety improvement points found by the examiner, the risks will be manageable.
"Armenia will lose the international arbitration lawsuit if miner Lydian sues Armenia."
This would send a bad message to the international investors, said the MP.
QP MP Varazdat Karapetyan sees a big problem revealed by the examination, and says future discussions will reveal whether these environmental risks are manageable or not. He doesn't fully agree with the interpretation that resuming mining now would be safe.
QP held a meeting with MPs to discuss Amulsar. QP MP Alen Simonyan said the idea is that if the mine's operation will slightly damage Sevan or Jermuk, then it won't be operated. Otherwise it will receive a green light.
Pashinyan held a meeting with Jermuk municipality and residents, various environmentalists, tourism industry representatives who said mine's operations would hurt them. https://factor.am/175991.html
Few angry environmentalists left the meeting with PM. They called Pashinyan "no better than Serj" and for "blindly accepting" the Investigative Committee's examination result conclusion.
PM spokesman said there is no need for a new examination, contradicting an environmentalist's claims that Pashinyan promised a new investigation.
Some protesters said even if a second examination showed that it's safe, they would still be against the mining.
Jermuk city official said no final decision has been made on mine operation by the government, and that a broader discussion will happen: "some people are against, others are in favor, some suggested a referendum."
PM Pashinyan went live.
He cited his June-2018 speech in which he expressed skepticism over shutting down the mine's operations based on lack of facts. At the time he urged the activists to give the government time to examine the issue, without making ultimatums.
July-2018 he said: this mining authorization process begun 12 years ago. If it was done now, his administration would be against having such a large mine near Jermuk city. The (previous) government gave a permission to launch the mine (no reason to believe illegally) and very large investments have already been made. Today, the question is the mine's impact on Jermuk waters, and Jermuk city as a recreational place. To make a decision, facts need to be gathered. The government has no reason to unfairly side with the miner. If the examination reveals it's safe, it will be operated, said Pashinyan last year before the elections.
Pashinyan says after being elected as PM in May-2018, he begun receiving many letters from environmental groups and read all of them. After reading them, he developed the impression that Sevan/Jermuk will be lost if Amulsar operates. In one of the environmental letters, accusations were made against former officials about them allegedly covering-up information. This served the basis for his decision to send the letter to the Investigative Committee, which then launched a felony abuse of power investigation against Nature Ministry. The Investigative Committee gathered evidence from everyone, including the environmental groups. A decision was made that international environmental experts need to be involved for evidence gathering.
...so the government announces an auction to sign a contract with an international environmental agency. Two firms participated in the auction. One offered to do the job for $140k, the other one for ~$350k. Normally the cheapest one would be selected, but a coalition of environmental protection institutes called "National Resource Governance Institute" said that the cheap firm's standards are too low. ELARD was given a high mark by the institute. The government decided to pay more and get a better examination done by ELARD. No arguments were made against ELARD while it was being chosen as the examiner. ELARD cooperated with American TRC(?) environmental examination firm during the exams.
The final results arrived in Aug-2019. It showed that Sevan lake would be safe. Even in the worst case scenario of a large earthquake, small amounts of pollution would escape but it would be negligible on the larger scale. Other common human activities in Sevan pose significantly more damage to the lake than what Amulsar would do in the worst case scenario. The same is true about Jermuk underground waters.
Another environmental issue that came up was the Darpa, Vorotan and few other rivers. The exam showed that the risks here are manageable. Pashinyan says this is where some people interpreted Investigative Committee's words incorrectly. "Manageable" doesn't mean X amount of pollution will be done instead of 5*X amount. "Manageable" was referred to the prevention of the pollution in these rivers altogether.
ELARD urged 16 things to prevent the pollution (with a few of them being optional as long as some other similar improvements are done). 10 of these are already on the agenda of miner Lydian. 5 will be implemented soon.
ELARD found that some of Lydian's data provided to them was flawed and Lydian has some "problems". So how come the Investigative Committee took this ELARD report and concluded that the mining will be safe, asks Pashinyan. That is because the 16 safety recommendations are meant to address the risks associated with the existing problems. The Investigative Committee explained the process of what they do, which is the felony investigation part. Every time ELARD found something problematic, investigative committee invites Lydian and asks them to explain the discrepancy. In the end, it was concluded that 16 measures are enough to contain the pollution.
The government will permanently monitor the safety measures by Lydian. If it is found that pollutants are dumped in nearby rivers, the firm will receive a warning and 3 months to fix. If not stopped, they will be shut down.
Pashinyan says the safety measures in Amulsar will be "unprecedented" for Armenia. No such standards existed in past. The government will also require other mines to improve their standards. These firms will need to spend dozens of millions of dollars, and the government has the legal right to demand them to do it. This is also a "punishment" for some competitor mines which are secretly inflaming the protests against Amulsar. (there have been rumors, which PM says are confirmed, that small amounts of aid was given by other mines to make sure Amulsar is shut down).
The examination also touched the issue of air pollution in Jermuk city, which is a concern for residents. The 16 safety measures are also meant to address the pollution. It isn't just the water that will be safe. Europe and US (e.g. Salt Lake City) have many eco-cities located very close to mines, and they have no issues, so this isn't unprecedented.
Pashinyan says the complaints he hears from the environmentalists are the same complaints they had a year ago. These complaints is what prompted this entire environmental and felony investigation to be initiated by him. He says the criticizm that the government doesn't want to listen to the environmentalists, is false.
Mining share was 18% of the overall industry in 1H19. It's down from a 20% share in 1H18. The overall mining turnover is growing. Manufacturing is 67% of the industry, up from 63%. More stats inside.
Update: the investigation of several former high ranking forest protection officials is over. 1462 trees were illegally cut between 2016-2018 in a protected area. The officials responsible for protecting it will be prosecuted for allegedly colluding with illegal loggers.
Russian authorities have made a decision to shield the former regime's Mihran Poghosyan (Panama paper suspect) who fled to Russia around the time when the Pashinyan administration begun investigating his past. Poghosyan, an Armenian citizen, is accused of embezzling state funds, money laundering, abuse of power and corruption.
Prosecutor's office says the Russians' explanation for the extradition refusal is flawed and doesn't reflect the Russian law. They have asked the Russian authorities for a clarification for the refusal.
Poghosyan becomes the second known high ranking fugitive official to be shielded by the Russian authorities, with the other one being the former Defense Minister who is wanted in the March 1st case. A QP MP Sos Avetisyan isn't happy with the decision not to extradite Poghosyan.
Armenia's debt to Russia is $300 million. Belarus owes $7.6bln, Ukraine $3.7bln, Venezuela $3.5bln.
NSS has busted the former mayor of Tatul, Aragatsotn with allegedly embezzling 3.5mln funds in 2014 that were meant to be spent on agriculture. Another 2.2mln embezzlement in 2015.
PM: the government will spend an extra 2.1bln to install a running water in border outposts, and on other improvements.
Update: military revealed that in north-easter Tavush area, a part of the border was moved forward by 1-1.5km. At the same time Azeris moved forward 0.5km but mislead the public about the scale or their advancements.
In regards to a different border region, today Parliament speaker Mjrzoyan said the Azeri army has lost its attacking advantages near Chinari village after Armenians advanced over a 140 hectare land. This capture places the Georgia-Armenia gas pipeline and the highway in safety, and allows Armenians to monitor several Azeri positions near the area.
Defense Ministry confirms that important heights were captured, giving the Armenian side a strategic advantage. Although Chinari village is still visible for Azeri soldiers, they are now directly under a line of fire by Armenian positions which are located on front and a side.
The satellite imagery shows the Armenian position advancements on the mountains. (green AM, red AZ, left AM village, right AZ village)
Azerbaijan has located the black box of a missing MiG-29 fighter jet that crashed into Caspian lake few weeks earlier.
HALO Trust is a humanitarian organization that has been removing un-exploded land mines from Artsakh Republic. Its main donor is the US. With the White House recently deciding to save billions of dollars by reducing foreign aid, many aid programs around the world are expected to be slashed. Several US Congressmen have urged the US govt to continue this aid.
HALO Trust's representatives say the organization will continue its works at a smaller scale in the event of funds cut, because not all of their funding comes from US.
WCIT 2019 international tech conference will be held in Armenia starting Oct 6th. 59 speakers are registered so far. Among them are the Infosys founder, NVIDIA founder (the guy with kojnni kurtka), VaynerX president, Gary Vynerchuk an investor of Twitter/Tumbls/Venmo/Uber, Acer founder, GARMIN GPS co-founder, more to be announced soon.
Conference organizers have been negotiating with Barack Obama for 4 months to have him come over, but it's not known if he will.
2,000 people from 70 countries to arrive. $100k grant will be issued to startups.
Tired of unruly drivers?
QP MP has created a draft bill to allow citizens to use a special smartphone app to record rule breakers and upload it to police. He says in recent times more people have been willing to cooperate with the police. Large Facebook groups have been created by citizens in which they catch bad drivers.
Glendale's female basketball team becomes the pan-Armenian champion. The games are over. Closing ceremony.
Greco-Roman wrestling youth team has won two silver medals in World Championship 👏
Link to original report: https://www.reddit.com/r/armenia/comments/csloqx/anticorruption_news_aug192019_amulsar_mining_how/
|2018 Daily Armenia Reports|
|2019 Daily Armenia Reports|