Artur Grigoryan, former Head of Inspectorate for Nature Protection and Mineral Resources, wrote on his Facebook page on July 9, citing the issue of Lake Sevan, illegal fishing in the lake, and shady business with a circulation of tens of millions of dollars.
“At the end of January of this year, we were planning to carry out an inspection in Sevan National Park. Dozens of citizens had complained about the illegal fishing of the whitefish since the markets were full of this fish in those days, and industrial fishing of whitefish is banned” Grigoryan wrote, also adding photographs of canned whitefish sold at supermarkets and stores, and their labels.
By the decree of the Minister of Nature Protection, whitefish fishing has been banned in Lake Sevan since 2006. However, production of canned whitefish is not limited to the local market consumption. Canned whitefish products are widely exported to a number of countries, from Russia to the US. Local companies export it to markets abroad by using different schemes.
The whitefish business of Vladimir Gasparyan’s mother-in-law: On to the US
Photos published by Artur Grigoryan show that Galilia LLC is among companies producing canned whitefish. Heghush Galstyan has been the founder and sole shareholder of the company since 2014. The latter is the mother-in-law of former Chief of the RA Police Vladimir Gasparyan. In June 2018, Heghush Galstyan alienated 40 percent of her shares to a person called Anahit Mnatsakanyan. On July 4, Garush Arakelyan became the director of the company. It’s noteworthy that Vahe Gulanyan was the director of Galilia LLC in 2014-2017. He is currently the director of Sevan National Park. On 11 February 2017, Gulanyan stated on Para TV: “It’s hard to fight against fish poaching when people earn their living with it.”
With remarkable coincidence, Vladimir Gasparyan’s son and daughters closely follow the updates of the Galilio Facebook page.
According to the photos published by Artur Grigoryan, the canned whitefish produced by Galilia is also exported to the USA through AGA SEVEN SEAS Inc. According to open sources, this company was founded in 2014 at Los Angeles 7325 Greenbush Ave., North Hollywood. A person named Grayr Agadzhanian was the registering agent. Agadzhanian used to have a food manufacturing company in Armenia at the time. The Royal Soy Caviar Company, which was founded in 2004, has now stopped operating. The AGA SEVEN SEAS website shows that the company’s products mainly include Russian caviar, smoked and semi-smoked fish.
Canned whitefish from Noramarg to Russia
Another company that produces canned whitefish from Lake Sevan is “Eco Food”, which was established in 2012. According to the State Register of Legal Entities, the sole shareholder of the company is Arsen Movsisyan. Eco Food website shows that their canned food production history began in 1997 and then expanded, and in 2012, EcoFood had fish farms. The company operates in Noramarg community of Ararat marz. Mayor Arman Tadevosyan told Fip.am that he has no information on the fish farm, its founders, and its directors. At the same time, according to Tadevosyan, the taxes and duties levied are duly paid to the community by Eco Food. Photos published by Artur Grigoryan show that Eco Food produces canned whitefish by the order of “Sis Natural” company, and the Russian representative and importer of the canned whitefish is the large Russian “Lenta” company.
In another case, EcoFood’s Russian partner is a company called “GClub” (Джиклаб), whose shareholder and director is Artur Avetisov. The official email address of this company takes us to another Russian company, ProdSnek. The company possesses a capital of more than one million rubles, and its shareholder and director is Sabina Atayants. The company is engaged in Armenian canned fish and vegetables trade. The company’s website describes what products they receive from Eco Food. Russian websites mention that “Armenia has long been cooperating with Ministries of Defense, Internal Affairs and so on, faithfully performing their work.” In fact, they refer to the contracts signed with these ministries in the procurement process.
“Hamlet Hovsepyan” PE: Supplier of Law Enforcement Authorities
A private entrepreneur called Hamlet Hovsepyan is also engaged in production of canned Sevan whitefish. The business is registered in Jrvezh village of Kotayk Marz. This company was founded by Hamlet Hovsepyan, but currently his son Hayk Hovsepyan is in charge. Just like Eco Food, this company is also one of the major suppliers of the Ministry of Defense. “Hamlet Hovsepyan” PE has been exporting its products to Russia as well and, naturally, the Sevan canned whitefish is also among exported products. The press has reported about Hovsepyans’ business several times in the context of procurement tenders of law enforcement authorities.
For instance, in 2015, the Ministry of Defense made procurements from this PE in several stages (first purchasing canned meat worth 171 million AMD, and then another procurement worth 52 million AMD). In 2016, an agreement for the procurement worth approximately 300 million AMD was signed with this PE. By the way, part of the canned meat discovered during the search of the detained General Manvel Grigoryan’s home was produced by Hamlet Hovsepyan PE.
Years ago, the press reported on the procurements made from Hamlet Hovsepyan PE, referring to the 2013 Annual Report of the Control Chamber. According to this report, “Danini” LLC and “Hamlet Hovsepyan” PE participated in the tender for the supply of meat to the penitentiary institutions. “Danini” won the tender by offering a cheaper price, but it purchased the products for penitentiary institutions from the Hamlet Hovsepyan PE.
Artur Grigoryan’s photos show that “Eliza and Gohar” LLC is one of the companies producing canned whitefish. It was founded in 2000. The founder and shareholder is Avag Hovhannisyan. The company has only 5 employees. Avag Hovhannisyan and the company are registered at the same address located in Nubarashen administrative district.
“Father and son Harutyunyans” company is registered in Sevan. According to the State Register, 50% of the company’s shares are owned by Grisha Harutyunyan and the other half by Galya Balayan, who are registered at the same address.
Sale and export of whitefish: Organized corruption
Speaking to reporters on the sale of canned whitefish on July 11, Minister of Environment Erik Grigoryan said that they have received information on the sale of canned whitefish from the State Revenue Committee. “We have received a suggestion from the inspectorate to make legislative amendments to prohibit sales along with fishing” the minister said, adding that there are gaps and they need to be addressed.
Artur Grigoryan, former head of Inspectorate for Nature Protection and Mineral Resources, told Flip.am that producers of canned whitefish cannot justify buying fish from other vendors, in which case the question arises as to where the vendors bought them. “There is an operating network. If there is a company that sends 100,000 boxes of canned whitefish to Russia, do you think they come and collect it from the old people here? It’s an operating mechanism. The fish is fished, collected by 10-15 people, and they send it for sale through their channels” Grigoryan says.
He draws attention to another circumstance: businesses should have a raw material purchase document so that they can pass the veterinary and sanitary expertise at the State Food Safety Inspectorate. So how do exporters get that permission? According to Grigoryan, this is a question that leads to suspicions about systemic corruption. Artur Grigoryan told us that he passed information about illegal sale and export of whitefish to the Chief of the Police. There has been no progress. “There are names, companies, evidence, law according to which it is prohibited. It is a matter of will. People who have been involved in those businesses do not have influence on these authorities or are not part of them. Disclosure will be easy” he said.
According to Grigoryan, there are preliminary and unverified data on the volume of illegal whitefish fishing. “It’s about 3000 tons, which is essentially different from official data. The Institute of Fish Farming of the National Academy of Sciences provides data that the number of whitefish in Sevan is about 500 tons. But these are very approximate numbers” Grigoryan says. Grigoryan has fixed the vehicles engaged in illegal fishing and passed the data to the Chief of the Police. A week later, he was dismissed from the post of Head of the Inspectorate.