November 3, 2017 - 13:27 AMT
Russian-Armenian tycoon expanding influence in Armenia: Eurasianet

Samvel Karapetyan, an Armenian-born billionaire who has built a business empire in Russia, is increasingly investing in Armenia and, in particular, its energy sector where he is becoming a key player, said in an article on Thursday, November 2.

The 52-year-old tycoon has made no secret of his strong support for Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan (no relation), who took office in September 2016 and has a reputation as a technocratic reformist, the article said.

Karapetyan has repeatedly indicated his desire to retain his position as prime minister. This creates the possibility of a clash of two political titans over the country’s leadership position. While it is still not clear how everything will shake out, Samvel Karapetyan’s growing economic influence in Armenia has clearly boosted Karen’s chances of retaining power.

The media-shy tycoon’s net worth more than tripled from $1.4 billion in 2011 to $4.4 billion in October 2017, apparently making him the wealthiest ethnic Armenian in the world, according to Forbes magazine. Through his Tashir Group, which comprises over 200 firms, he also owns a Russian commercial bank and dozens of shopping malls, office buildings, hotels and restaurants across Russia.

Until a few years ago, Karapetyan’s activities in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh were largely confined to philanthropy. In particular, he financed the $22-million construction of a new hospital in Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert.

Karapetyan’s first major business asset in Armenia was a sprawling shopping mall built in Yerevan in 2012. He will inaugurate a similar American-style retail and entertainment complex in the Armenian capital on November 13.

Two years ago, Tashir bought Armenia’s heavily indebted and mismanaged power distribution network from Inter RAO, a state-owned Russian giant. In August 2017, the Armenian government announced that the national electricity transmission company will also be managed (and, it says, modernized) by Tashir. The term of the deal is for at least five years.

Karapetyan is also planning to build two major hydroelectric plants and one waste-to-energy facility through a separate investment fund, the Investors Club of Armenia (ICA), which he set up in early 2017. The ICA estimates that the combined cost of those three investment projects is about $470 million. “Together with partners, the ICA is investing in Armenian projects that are worth over $1.1 billion,” the fund declares on its website. The site does not offer any details of where the remainder of its investments is going.

The two men most probably struck up a friendship when Karen Karapetyan held senior executive positions in Gazprom subsidiaries in Russia from 2011-2016. Highlighting their close relationship, Karen sat next to Samvel at the recent extravagant wedding of the latter’s younger son.

The politically inexperienced premier has repeatedly pledged to improve living standards in Armenia by attracting large-scale foreign investment and improving the domestic business environment. Samvel Karapetyan’s growing economic presence in Armenia could therefore strengthen his hand.