2021 July 27

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Daily news wrap-up

News - Jul/27/2021: Serj-era North-South highway corruption __ Interview: new national airline __ MFA on landmines & lands __ Yerevan to abolish salary bonus __ Home prices down __ Bone marrow transplant __ Hep C meds __ Verdict: MPs, retractions, ARF __ Univ. ragequits after letter __ Sports news
by ar_david_hh

Your 16-minute Tuesday recap in 4061 words.

the embezzlement of the North-South highway project explained

Last week we learned that Serj's brother Lyovik's daughter was summoned to a police station to explain how she obtained her properties. The authorities could seize the assets as part of the reformed laws.

Serj's brother Lyovik himself is a suspect in the North-South highway embezzlement case. He is on the run. The Factor media prepared a report about the years of embezzlement.

Below are parts from Factor media's report titled "Armenia's Broken Spine":

timeline of events

The construction of the 556km long highway was launched 12 years ago and was supposed to finish in 2018. You were supposed to be able to drive from southern Meghri to northern Bavra in just five hours, twice faster than today, while spending 40% less on travel.

2009: planned date to begin the construction.

2012: actual construction begins after three years of delays. As a result of the delay, the Serj administration was forced to pay a $300,000 penalty to Asian Development Bank. No public officials were reprimanded.

Serj could not keep his promise of finishing the construction by 2019 because of routine delays and low-quality work. Meanwhile, he was promising to build another North-South Railway network alongside the Highway.

2017: only 6% of the Highway was complete, or 31 kilometers, just two years from the projected deadline. The original $956 million budget swell to $1.5 billion.

2018: dozens of corruption cases are launched after the revolution.

2020: felony charges are pressed against 29 individuals. Four of them are ex-public officials, while the rest are people who manage or work for construction companies. Over 1,000 people were interrogated.

the highway is split into five "Transh" sections

The 31km of Transh-1 section was built between Ashtarak-Yerevan-Artashat. Its planned budget was $70.4 million. Many were baffled as to why they began the project in parts of the country that already had more or less good roads. Instead, they could have started it from Syunik.

In 2013, the Audit Chamber raised the alarm about the low-quality work. Chamber president Ishkhan Zakaryan called it a "disgrace", and fired one of the employees tasked with quality oversight.

That did not stop the abuse. In December 2015 they opened the first section for six months for public use; it was a "test". The first Transh was fully opened in the summer of 2016.

post 2018 anti-corruption investigations

The director of a subcontractor company was charged with forgery and fraud to evade taxes. Another one was charged with large-scale embezzlement during the construction of the Artashat-Yerevan-Ashtarak section.

The main alleged scheme in most cases was the company skimming hundreds of millions by either evading taxes or building low-quality low-cost roads while charging the same fees.

Authorities say a ֏871 million corruption was busted in the Transh-2 road's 42km section near Ashtarak-Talin. The construction company and the quality auditor are accused of conspiring to defraud the state.

It all began in 2012 when the Transport Ministry signed a $179.6 million (Dollar) deal with a Span-based company "Corsan-Corviam", which then hired dozens of Armenian sub-contractors.

Corsan-Corviam suspended the works after the felony investigations in late 2018. Next year the government canceled the contract with them. It was then alleged that the Armenian subcontracts were not paid by Corsian. As a result, the government had to give them a ֏2.228 billion loan in 2020.

The Spanish company director is wanted by the police, while some of the Armenian subcontracts are also implicated in the alleged corruption scheme. As a result of this screwup, the Transh-2 Ashtarak-Talin construction is currently suspended. 85% of soil work and 34% of concrete work have been complete. A 9km is already being used by the public. A new process was launched to launch an auction to find a company to build another 8km of this section soon.

authorities bust another ֏23.5 billion ($48.4 million) corruption

The prosecutors say that between 2009-2018, several officials abused their powers to extend the construction deadlines without properly collecting the damages done to the state. They allegedly helped embezzle the state funds by charging for the same services twice.

Artashat-Yerevan-Ashtarak was cleared for public use despite having serious quality problems. Besides the ֏23.5 billion damages, the program was delayed by nine years. Former Transport Minister Gagik Beglaryan is a suspect.

Transh-3 was also mired in a ֏2.7 billion corruption

In this section, the suspects are Chinese SinoHydro company and its subcontractor STONES Inc. the latter was managed by BHK leader Gagik Tsarukyan's right-hand-man Sedrak Arustamyan. Arustamyan and the former Transport Minister OEK Gurgen Sargsyan are charged with felonies. The alleged embezzlement was in the Talin-Lanjik road section.

How the alleged scheme operated: SinoHydro signs a ֏2 billion worth of contracts with STONES to receive advice. The STONES director and the alleged accomplice then register two "fake" companies to receive the contract funding from SinoHydro. A ֏247 million of it is then cashed out by STONES director. Another ֏603 from SinoHydro was also transferred and cashed out by the STONES director through other means. //

SinoHydro's subsidiary company in Armenia is also accused of evading ֏240 million in taxes. Three Chinese workers and the aforementioned Armenian officials are facing felony charges.

STONES's Sedrak Arustamyan has "returned" ֏1 billion to investigators after the charges.


The Chinese SinoHydro currently continues the road repairs on the Talin-Lanjik-Gyumri section. A part of it is entirely ready. 12km asphalt-concrete layer was installed. Another 24km has double-layer asphalt. The company recently gave assurances that the new roads have 20cm thickness. The double-layer asphalt is supposed to be laid in a 50km section by the end of this year. 2022 is the expected completion date for this Talin-Gyumri section.

Serj's brother Levon is accused of using 50/50 scheme to handpick construction companies

It was alleged that Serj's brother Levon Sargsyan and the owners of PolitTransport company used their influence to "hijack" the construction company selection process that involved $250 million, and that Levon forced the handpicked "winners" to pay him 50% of the profit made from the work.

2021: European Union plans to spend €600 million on North-South highway

... as part of the €2.6 billion aid package. This will help build the most expensive section of Transh-4, the Ashtarak-Agarak. There is a section that will need to have tunnels and bridges. It's the Sisian-Qajaran part.

These constructions in Transh-4 and Transh-5 will begin when the financial part is cleared and the construction companies are selected. The 45km section of Qajaran-Agarak is currently being designed. This year the government will announce an auction to build a 32km section of Agarak-Qajaran.

Transh-5, on the other hand, is in the north. It will connect Armenia to Georgia via 62km Gyumri-Bavra road, the design of which has been completed.

other partners

Besides the EU, Armenia is also negotiating with other partners to finance the construction in some parts of the highway.

https://factor.am/397502.html https://factor.am/397838.html https://www.reddit.com/r/armenia/comments/oqbrzd/news_jul232021_second_massive_solar_project/

Tags: #NorthSouth

French experts suggested mechanisms to improve tax inspections in Armenia

The French Development Agency (AFD) and Armenia's IRS held a 4-day meeting about combatting international tax fraud. The French experts brought tax evasion examples and discussed ways to reform Armenian law to combat it.


Foreign Ministry responds to Azerbaijan about landmines, border intrusion, border demarcation, trilateral statements

MFA: it's Azerbaijan that obstructs the implementation of Nov 9 and Jan 11 statements, not Armenia. [in response to Azeri claims that Armenia doesn't want peace]

Azeris violated the Nov 9 statement, which states that both sides should remain in their positions, and launched an attack on Artsakh villages Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd.

Azerbaijan has not yet returned all POWs.

Azerbaijan has been illegally occupying Armenian territories since May 12. The constructive approach of the Armenian side to implement Nov 9/Jan 11 was opposed by Azerbaijan's policy of disrupting regional security.

Azerbaijan claims there is no territorial entity called "Nagorno Karabakh", while the Nov 9 document signed by them acknowledges "Nagorno Karabakh and adjacent areas."

Armenia has been the most constructive in implementing Nov 9 and Jan 11 regarding the communication unblocking, while Azerbaijan manipulated the topic to circulate the idea of a "corridor", which distorts the Nov 9 content.

Azerbaijan complains that Armenia is not helping with the landmine removals in the conflict zone. It should be emphasized that Nov 9 does not contain any provision for cooperation between the parties in the field of demining. It is worth mentioning that the possibility of cooperation with Armenia and Artsakh in this direction was usually denied by Azerbaijan in the past. Moreover, in 2017 due to Azerbaijan's efforts, the OSCE Office in Yerevan was closed under the pretext that the OSCE was engaged in a humanitarian demining program.

Not having any obligation to cooperate in the field of demining, the Armenian side nevertheless provided maps to Azerbaijan through third parties as an expression of goodwill. //


Tags: #demining #LandmineMaps

BulgarianMilitaryDotCom: "Azerbaijani black market: Where do the western weapons go?"

The 2002 introduction of the moratorium (Section 907) on the prohibition of deliveries of armament to Azerbaijan has allowed American corporations to sell weapons directly to Baku. The US Secretary of State can freeze the sales if there is evidence that the American weapons were used against Armenia. Referring to the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s words, exports of arms to Baku are also necessary for the support of efforts of Washington to counter international terrorism.

Meanwhile, a number of experts and politicians are skeptical about the appropriateness of the step of the White House, indicating the need for establishing legislative measures setting severe restrictions...

Full: https://bulgarianmilitary.com/2021/07/26/azerbaijani-black-market-where-does-the-western-weapon-go/ https://armenpress.am/eng/news/1059191/ https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059191.html

court ruling: MP has to retract

Ex-BHK MP Tigran Urikhanyan has to issue a retraction for his June 2020 claims against the "1000+" soldiers' insurance fund. He claimed that the Fund had "shady expenditures" and "missing funds".


court ruling: mayor stays in jail

The mayor of Kajaran (Syunik) will remain under pre-trial arrest for another two months, ruled the Appeals Court today. Manvel Paramazyan, a member of the Kocharyan-ARF alliance, is accused of accepting a bribe and committing election/voter violations.


court ruling: MP has to apologize over ARF claims

Ind. MP Babajanyan has to issue an apology to the ARF party for his 2019 words in which he claimed that ARF's leader Hrant Margaryan was conducting narcotrafficking in the 1990s with the help of Davit Shahnazaryan, and that "We should not forget what the 'Dro' organization was really about, and the connection between 'the case of 31' and the October 27 terrorist attack."

The MP had also said that several members of ARF's Nikol Aghbalyan group confirmed that they held a gathering and agreed to organize partisan attacks against the state and that ARF uses its diaspora power and media influence abroad to "poison the state and the ongoing reforms." [Context: this last part is about 2019 events in which several ARF members publicly resigned and criticized its leadership for "using ARF as a tool to serve narrow interests". It was over ARF leadership's misleading claims relating to ongoing education reforms.]


court ruling: NSS and police violated the law in 2015 (Նորքի զինված խմբի գործով)

In 2015, the NSS and the Police claimed to have uncovered an armed group consisted of former deputy Defense Minister Vahan Shirkhanyan and a man named Arthur Vardanayan. The latter sued the security agencies for not blurring out his face, showing him semi-naked, and presenting him as a "terrorist" in a clip.

During the trial, the police's argument was "it wasn't us", while the NSS did not respond.

The judge ruled against the police and NSS and forced them to pay a penalty.


interview with Civil Aviation Committee chief about Armenia's new national budget airlines, and the airlines market in general

Context here about the joint project between the government and Air Arabia.

Q: if it's a "national airline", what role does the private company Air Arabia play in this?

Tatevik Revazyan: we've been working in this direction for three years. Armenia needs a strong airlines carrier. It's "national" because the state is co-investing.

Before COVID, the aviation industry was very complex. Now it's even more so, but it's more difficult for everyone - everyone is in bad shape. We decided to take lessons from the crisis and learn something new.

None of the offers we received in the past three years were acceptable. They asked the state to change its strategy and to go back to "Armavia" days when the market was closed for foreign competitors. They were saying that it would be impossible to create a national airline if too many foreign companies come and compete.

Air Arabia is a very strong company and one of the safest ones. They built something big from zero within 20 years.

Q: ... and our airline is going to be a budget one?

Yes. If we look at the working models in 2021, it's the low-cost ones that work. 80% of European traffic is budget. We decided to choose a business model that works today and not 20 years ago.

Q: what's the roadmap? When will the flights begin?

The company has to contact us [Civil Aviation Committee]. It takes up to 90 days to register them. Simultaneously or afterward they will hire the crew members, most of whom will be Armenians. There will be many new jobs.

The good thing about this company is it doesn't have a limit on the number of jets. We will have as many jets as the market dictates: five, ten, 20...

Q: how will this affect our aviation rating considering the "blacklisting" talk of the recent past?

It will have a positive effect. When you involve one of the best players in the world, it helps increase the rating, especially in terms of safety.

Q: we've also seen the entry of other budget airlines in the market. Was it easy to bring them to Armenia considering the pandemic?

Let's start with budget airlines that were already in Armenia but suspended the flights because of the pandemic:

RyanAir will not return in the near future but they will do so later. For now, they are focusing on restoring their business in the EU. RyanAir is in very bad shape right now. Armenia, Georgia, etc. are secondary markets for them.

Q: ... so their absence is a result of COVID and not issues with Armenia?

Yes, it's the COVID. At one point, RyanAir lost 90% of its passenger traffic.

Budget WhizzAir has already entered the Armenian market. Additionally, we have new ones coming soon: Lufthansa, Eurowings, Condor. The primary reason for the entry of these new ones is the COVID. While in the past they used to be very busy with existing flights, now they have the option to take a risk and explore new markets.

Q: besides these new routes, we're also witnessing the restoration of the old routes that were canceled during COVID. Is the recovery process satisfactory?

Hell no. Before the pandemic, we were close to becoming the fastest-growing (%-wise) market in the world. I regret all the damage COVID has done. It's slowly recovering, though. There is an interest in the Armenian market.

The new national airlines will accelerate the recovery because it consolidates its resources on the Armenian market specifically; we won't be considered a "secondary" market for them.

Q: any negotiations with other budget airlines?

In reality, not many European low-costers are left that do not already fly or plan to fly to Armenia. What we were missing was a national carrier. We will have one now.

https://youtu.be/_rmzMGD8qjI https://factor.am/397766.html

Tags: #airways #NationalAirlines

University of Aarhus (Denmark) cancels a conference after complaints from Armenian experts

The University invited Azeri, Georgian, and Dagestani guests to discuss the 300-600 AD history in the Kur river area. Armenians were not invited, so they sent a letter saying their absence will allow Azeris to falsify the history.

The conference organizers decided to completely cancel it. Some Armenians were unhappy with the cancellation, and claimed that the organizers' original intention was to allow Azeris to make unchecked false claims.


diasporan musicians played classical in Yerevan

A musical event titled "Meeting in Yerevan" was held in Yerevan. The State Symphony Orchestra of Armenia was joined by Belgian-Armenian violinist Hrachya Avanesyan, Danish-Armenian pianist Marianna Shirinyan, and cellist Sevak Avanesyan.

The latter gained widespread recognition after his performance in Shushi's Ghazanchetsots Cathedral after its bombing.


Armenian student wins silver medal in 32nd Biology Olympiad

The Olympiad was organized by Portugal remotely. Hundreds of students participated from 76 countries. Gevorg Avanesyan won a silver medal.

Next year Armenia will host the international Biology Olympiad for the first time.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059151.html https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/219373

Byurakan Observatory will host international scientific events in September

The first event is "2RASS": 2nd summer regional astronomy school. They will invite newbies and experts.

The second event is "Astronomy at the crossroads of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary sciences", dedicated to Byurakan's 75th anniversary. Its goal is to establish wider cooperation in natural and social sciences.

https://www.bao.am/meetings/meetings/BAO75/index.html https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059184.html

Yerevan municipality will increase salaries and abolish the "bonus" system

The ruling QP party councilman presented the resolution during a session.

Councilman Galjyan: we proposed amendments to the salary system. Around 2,000 workers will get a raise. Council members will continue to receive the minimum ֏68k [they are pretty much volunteering their time].

The capital's annual salary and bonus fund is currently ֏7 billion ($14.5 million). The amendment will not change that. What used to be paid to workers as a bonus will essentially continue to be paid as a salary.

The current [advertised] salaries, which were implemented in 2011, are not competitive in today's labor market and make it difficult to attract professionals. The amendment will result in a higher fixed salary.

The practice of issuing bonuses was often unfounded and raised complaints in the public. After the amendment, bonuses will be issued only if extra work was done. Additionally, we plan to increase oversight to prevent unjustified premiums. //


Yerevan is still demolishing the illegally built structures...


Tokyo Olympics

Weightlifter Isabella Yaylyan (56kg) finished 7th.

Armenian-Russian tennis player Karen Khachanov scored the second victory. He will face an Argentinian opponent in Round 16.

Swimmer Arthur Barseghyan was unable to pass through the qualification round in the 100-meter freestyle. He did score a personal best result, though. His next attempt is on July 30 in the 50-meter freestyle.

Deputy Sports Minister Giloyan: the games appear soulless without the fans [prohibited due to COVID]. The athletes constantly have to get tested. It is perfectly organized. Every Japanese agency is prepared.

Wrestler Ferdinand Karapetyan was required to do better, I'm disappointed in him. Koryun Soghomonyan's opponent was strong but he could have done better.

Weightlifter Isabella Yaylyan missed an excellent opportunity to win a medal; she failed the 97kh lift.

I'm very satisfied with athlete Arthur Davtyan. He did well in հենացատկ. His նժույգ wasn't bad but his opponents were stronger, so he failed in նժույգ. Now the import part is to do just as well during the հենացատկ's final tournament.

I'm satisfied with boxer Bachkov. We are waiting for the rest. //

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059177.html https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059183.html https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059190.html https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059192.html Video: https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/219409 Video: https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/219423

two UEFA Europa League soccer matches will be held in Yerevan

The Soccer Federations of Kazakhstan and Belarus have asked their Armenian colleagues to host the upcoming games, featuring their teams, in Yerevan on July 29.


Chess World Cup: young grandmaster Martirosyan is out

Hayk played 1-1 against the Iranian opponent but lost 1.5-0.5 in the tie-breakers.

gg bro 👏


Japan's nuclear regulation chief expresses readiness to cooperate with Armenia

President Sarkissian is in Japan, where he met NRA president Toyoshi to discuss nuclear safety. Toyoshi said Japan constantly updates its nuclear tech with the latest safety tools and expressed readiness to help Armenia.


infrastructure repairs across Armenia

Gavar medical center is undergoing renovation and an equipment revamp.

Martuni medical center will have new radiology equipment donated by EU and WHO.

The drinking water network is being revamped in Norakert (Gegharkunik).

Varser (Gegharkunik) has a newly rebuilt kindergarten. The ֏150m project began in 2019 to reopen the facility that was shut eight years ago.

Sevan-Gomadzor-Tsamakaberd road is being renovated to resolve a decades-long issue. Several streets and backyards are also under renovation in Sevan.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059199.html https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059201.html https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059208.html https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059213.html https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/219448

bicycle culture in Sevan

Sevan residents have noticed new parking stations for bikes. It's part of a sevanVELOtime project.

A few months earlier, Hermine Andrikyan participated in a program that helps female entrepreneurs, and secured a grant to improve her community.

Hermine's project is about promoting cycling, teaching residents how to ride, bicycle parking, tournaments, etc.


home prices are declining in Yerevan

Armenia's real estate market saw the highest number of transactions in a decade, during the first half of 2021.

7.7% of transactions were by foreign citizens (365 in Yerevan). They were mostly citizens of Russia, United States, Iran, and Europe [diasporans' favorite hideouts 😉]

Overall, Yerevan transactions fell 20%. The most active was the Malatia-Sebastia suburb, while the least one Nork-Marash.

m^2 apartment prices in Yerevan

Center: ֏611k (-8%)

Arabkir: ֏440k (-5%)

Zeytun -6%

Erebuni -4%

1H2021 vs 1H2020: - 5%

1H2021 vs 2H2020: -1%


COVID stats

4889 tested. 180 infected. 112 healed. 7 deaths. 4097 active.


first-ever bone marrow transplant surgery is done in Armenia

The allotransplantation (from one person to another) patients were children ages 5 and 2 with sickle cell anemia.

Deputy Healthcare Minister: this is great progress and a new beginning for our country. The surgeries were successful. From now on, our citizens will no longer have to spend huge sums to receive treatment abroad. This will also boost medical tourism; our prices will be competitive because the surgery costs 2-3x less.

Yolyan Blood Center officials: the two patients came from abroad. Besides these surgeries, we have already conducted 50 spinal cord stem cell transplants in Armenia.

The 5-year-old patient is from Nigeria. The donor is his twin sister. The kid celebrated his 5th birthday in the hospital. (aww?)

The 2-year-old patient is from Cameroon. The donor was the 12-year-old brother.

The two surgeries were conducted earlier this month. The patients underwent an 18-day high-intensity chemotherapy before receiving the 200-milliliter cell injections. The first patient will be discharged today, the second one next week.

This type of anemia is unique to Africans and sometimes among Arabs. Armenians do not get sick with it. //

Italian surgeon Lawrence "grazie" Faulkner took part in the surgery. He has been cooperating with Armenian colleagues for decades. "Armenian team did most of the work. I was an adviser. The procedure was successful. No complications. Kids are feeling well."

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059198.html https://youtu.be/w6VfLrzeYt8

Armenia can become a medical tourism destination

Aesthetic surgery, dentistry, and lately the vaccinations. After the government's recent decision to introduce a mandatory 10-day stay for foreign tourists to qualify for a free vaccine, the tourism agencies began offering 10-day vacation packages.


Hepatitis C medication will be free

The Healthcare Ministry has a program to find HCV patients in the early stages.

There were 1,244 confirmed cases in 2020. In 85% of the cases, the patients were unaware because it was symptomless. People often learn about it when it progresses and causes liver cirrhosis or cancer.

Hep C and Hep B numbers have been declining in Armenia, 9x and 6x respectively.

No Hep B has been recorded among 0-14 age groups since 1999 thanks to vaccinations.

To combat Hep C, the government decided to distribute free medication to 1,000 patients annually. The program began in late 2020. In the near future, they plan to treat all hep C patients for free. Some 446 patients have already benefitted from the program.

This program was tested before its implementation after Georgia sent the medication to Armenia. It resulted in a 97% success rate among Hep C patients.

The goal is to eliminate all Hep C by 2030 with a stepwise mechanism to gradually raise the number of patients.

More: https://youtu.be/ZHIfRCyD5CY https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1059209.html https://youtu.be/pWv8MxdA6iM

today in history

1953: Korean war ends with little territorial changes


end of report

The accused are innocent unless proven guilty in the court of law, even if they "appear" guilty.

News archive: http://www.armeniapedia.org/wiki/Daily_Anti-Corruption_Reports

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Link to original report and comments: https://www.reddit.com/r/armenia/comments/osu5yd/news_jul272021_serjera_northsouth_highway/

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