Armenian Environmental Front Civic Initiative
On July 23, 2019, RA Investigative Committee disseminated a press released on the criminal case initiated on apparent abuses committed by the former head of Gndevaz community Hayrapet Mkrtchyan in 2014-2015 in the process of alienation of land areas (current Gndevaz administrative representative of Jermuk community).
Still in 2014 about 200 residents of Gndevaz community lodged a complaint with one of the organizations financing the Amulsar Gold Project at the time, the International Finance Corporation, among other complaints, noting that the community is being manipulated in the process of land alienation. Lydian, however, had presented to the financier a schedule of his land acquisition and guarantees that there was no problem with the transparency of the process. Meanwhile, the community has long been rumored that some administrative officials were able to sell large tracts of land to Lydian and get rich in a short time.
As the Investigative Committee reports, the community head, being aware of the company purchasing land areas, abused his authorities and on 29 May 2019 he sold a land area of 9.91 ha from the community pastures to his son via an auction at a price of 410,130 AMD, who, in his turn, on 26 May 2015 sold his land areas to the company at a price of 147,300,838 AMD thus causing essential damage to the community. It should be specified that the Committee avoided mentioning the name of the company having purchased in its press release.
Nevertheless, there are also some other concerning facts related to this case. The committee informs that in the course of the preliminary investigation, 70,000,000 AMD has been recovered out of the damage caused to the community.
This press release gives the impression that the village head can only return the money he has embezzled (it is not known whether it is state or community budget) and is exonerated from responsibility. Or how it was decided that these funds would be subject to the state (community) budget in general, when neither the preliminary investigation had been completed nor the litigation had taken place, when it might be clear that the alienation / privatization of community pastures would generally had not happened. These funds may be subject to be returned to the company and alienated pastures may be returned to community ownership.
The question then arises: why the Investigative Committee is deciding, instead of the court and the community, what the fate of the corruptly deprived lands of the community should be? Maybe the community and the council have a different opinion on the matter, and they need the land not the stolen money.
Such an approach is simply unacceptable both in the legal sense and in the context of the right to decision-making, as the community first has to decide what to do with the property having been taken away. We believe that the land that was illegally alienated and sold to Lydian for the specific Amulsar project should be returned to the community, otherwise we would face the same situation as it happened in case of the notorious "public eminent domain" of Teghut mine, which were eventually recognized as illegal by the ECHR and major compensation judgments were made. Unfortunately, those compensations were vested on the shoulders of Armenian citizens.
As a post scriptum, we would also like to draw your attention to the video footage of the scandalous public hearings in Gndevaz back in August 2014, where you will see what the atmosphere was like, and how the same Gndevaz village head was trying to bring audience back to the auditorium having boycotted the hearings, because at that time he was expecting at least $ 300,000 and probably had no intention of protecting the interests of the community, the residents, and more especially those of the environment.
16:17 August 14, 2019