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Armenia Says Buyer Found For Confiscated Water Plant

The Bjni mineral-water plant was seized because of the previous owner's tax dispute.

The Bjni mineral-water plant was seized because of the previous owner's tax dispute.

YEREVAN -- An Armenian official says a buyer has been found for a mineral-water company that was confiscated in a controversial move from a wealthy, opposition-linked businessman, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The Bjni mineral-water plant was recently put up for tender again after months of bankruptcy proceedings resulting from its previous owner's politically charged dispute with tax authorities.

Bjni's court-appointed administration failed to attract any bids from potential buyers by a December 16 deadline.

But Arsen Chitchian, Bjni's bankruptcy administrator, told RFE/RL on December 25 that a private investor approached him on December 23 offering 4.3 billion drams ($11.38 million) for the plant located in Charentsavan, a small town about 40 kilometers north of Yerevan. He refused to name the buyer, saying that it is a "commercial secret" at the moment.

The takeover bid reported by the official nearly matches the amount in fines that were imposed on Bjni for alleged tax evasion when it was owned by the SIL Concern group of Khachatur Sukiasian and his extended family.

The government confiscated the plant after Sukiasian refused to pay the fines, rejecting the tax evasion charges as baseless and politically motivated.

Ara Zohrabian, a senior SIL Concern lawyer, denounced the impending sale. He told RFE/RL the Sukiasian family will challenge the deal in court.

Sukiasian, who staunchly supports opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, has already tried unsuccessfully to have Armenian courts overturn Bjni's seizure.

Sukiasian took his case to the European Court of Human Rights this summer, demanding as much as 214 million euros ($312 million) in "material and moral" damages from the Armenian government.