Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin

French Ex-PM Quits Armenian Investment Fund

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PARIS (Azatutyun) — Dominique de Villepin, a former French prime minister, has resigned from the governing board of an underperforming state fund tasked with attracting foreign investment in Armenia following a management overhaul initiated by the country’s government.

Villepin joined the Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF) two months after it was set up by the government in May 2019. The ANIF said at the time that the appointment is part of its efforts to bring together a “world-class Board of Directors” that will help it achieve its goals. It attracted only one more board member, Italian investment banking consultant Isidoro Lucciola, however.

The fund’s track record has also been less than impressive. It claims to have attracted only $210 million in foreign direct investment in the Armenian economy over the last four-and-a-half years.

Over 95 percent of that money is due to be invested by an Abu Dhabi-based company contracted in 2021 to build Armenia’s first big solar power plant. The project appears to have fallen well behind schedule.

In a statement over the weekend, the ANIF announced that the Ministry of Economy appointed three new board members, all of them Armenian government officials, who promptly voted to fire the fund’s executive director, David Papazian. One of those officials, Deputy Economy Minister Ani Ispirian, also replaced Villepin as chairman.

The statement gave no reason for these moves. It said that both Villepin, who had served as France’s prime minister from 2005-2007, and Lucciola resigned as board members “after this decision of the Ministry of Economy.” The two foreign members of ANIF’s Investment Committee, Khaled Helioui and Michael Thompson, also tendered their resignations.

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The Ministry of Economy has not yet commented on these personnel changes or the future of ANIF’s operations.

The current Armenian government has attracted few large-scale Western investments despite claiming to have eliminated “systemic” corruption and created a level playing field for all businesses.

It has also helped to effectively disrupt a multimillion-dollar gold mining project launched by a British-American company, Lydian International, a decade ago. The company invested $370 million in the massive Amulsar gold deposit and planned to start mining operations there in late 2018.

Those plans were thwarted after several dozen environmental protesters started blocking all roads leading to Amulsar following the 2018 “velvet revolution” in the country. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government did not revoke Lydian’s mining licenses. But it also refrained from using force to end the blockade.

Lydian filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada in late 2019 before being restructured. Its new owners and Pashinyan’s government reached an agreement in February 2023 to revive the project. They said the company needs to raise $250 million for finishing the construction of mining and smelting facilities at Amulsar and installing other equipment there.

In 2022, the government controversially rejected a $300 million bid by a consortium of French companies to build a big ski resort on the slopes of Armenia’s highest mountain, Aragats. It approved instead a more modest project proposed by an obscure Russian-Armenian businessman for the same location. The project has not yet been implemented.

 

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