American businessman Serob Ter-Poghosyan, president and owner of Metal Prince, has been operating a open copper mine on the sly for the past year. The mine, an eyesore in its own right, is located by the cemetery near the town of Shamlough.
Presently, Metal Prince is engaged in blasting at the pit, to the displeasure of local residents. Those living in multi-story buildings are particularly uneasy about the blasts. These explosions have been known to topple gravestones at the cemetery. The local caretaker quickly sets the stones upright again. The Metal Prince Ltd. Corporation is registered in the British Nevis Island. Through its joint-stock subsidiary companies, which are Akhtala Mountain Enrichment Plant, Sagamar and Molybdeni Ashkharh, it launched its activities in the Armenian mining sector in 2000. “I’ve heard that they will be raising all the residential buildings in Shamlough,” says town resident Mrs. Julietta. Ivan Sargsyan, a refugee who took up residence in Shamlough twenty years ago told us that, “They slowly come to 27 meters from our house. The walls of the house have crumpled due to the explosions. We live on the second floor and when there’s a strong blast it feels like an earthquake has struck. Your first instinct is to run away. They blast every day. In the beginning they would warn us before any blasting, but not any longer. Now, they turn off the lights from time to time. On day I visited my mother’s grave and they set off such a blast that the falling fragments would have killed anyone passing by. I don’t know who to report this all to?” Shamlough Mayor Lendroush Bezhanyan says that after the construction work is completed the mine will occupy a 50 hectare site. It goes without saying that Serob Ter-Poghosyan couldn’t have continued construction at the site without the full knowledge of the government. Amazingly, however, for the past year he’s been blasting and excavating without any formal agreement by the Shamlough Municipality.
Mine pays no taxes to municipality
Regarding permission to operate the mine, Mayor Bezhanyan stated, “They have a license but as mayor I haven’t granted any permission for the past year. Serob Ter-Poghosyan hasn’t paid a dime in property taxes to the municipality for the mine site. The documentation is not all there. All of us are working on the problem. They have pits on the site that they have cleaned out and are now expanding. They will compensate the town residents. If you look closely you will notice cracks at the site. During the Soviet era this was not an open pit mine but the site belonged to them. Many mining sites were off limits. They are now working on one such site. The road leading to the mine site from the town has been widened recently.” Mayor Bezhanyan said that there are 15-20 mine pits in Shamlough and that only three are presently in operation. “Up till 2007 they were paying 300,000 AMD in taxes to the community budget. When the law was changes they started paying according to Cadastre (State Property Registry) values. Now they don’t pay us anything in tax. I have no idea what, if anything, they pay to the national government in taxes. They only pay 56,000 AMD for the equipment they use at the site.” According to our reliable information, the Akhtala Mountain Enrichment Plant pays nothing in taxes to the national budget for the open mine, even though the empty “Kamaz” dump trucks entering the mine attests to the fact that mineral ore is being transported out. Mayor Bezhanyan stated that the town isn’t receiving any national money for environmental costs linked to the mine.
Company continues to shirk environmental responsibilities
“The site of the mine completely belongs to the Municipality of Shamlough. On our maps the site isn’t designated as a forest zone,” said Aram Razmazyan, Chief Forest Warden with Armenian Forests’ “Lalvar Forest Products Company”. As to how the 50 hectare mine site, nestled smack dab in the middle of the forest, can be claimed to have connection with the forested zones encircling Shamlough remains a mystery. During our visit to the mine site we saw the stumps of more than 24 felled trees. Simply put, Serob Ter-Pohghosyan, owner and executive director of the Akhtala Mountain Enrichment Plant is shirking his obligations to make compensation for the environmental damage caused by construction work at the open mine. Neither residents nor community leaders in proximity to the mine site have yet a clue as neither to the production capacity of the mine nor the full extent of the threats to the environment it poses. Research studies show that the Akhtala River, polluted by wastes produced by Akhtala Mountain Enrichment, exceeds the acceptable levels for several minerals: zinc by 262 times the norm, manganese by 59 times and copper by 31 times.
Serop Ter-Poghosyan, seemingly oblivious to the environmental damage caused by his company Akhtala Enrichment, continues to flout his responsibilities as a “corporate citizen”. Additional proof of this brazen disregard for the environment is the poorly maintained tailings dam that the company maintains along the road leading to the “Soviets” neighborhood in Akhtala. Work to encase the dam with soil for safety reasons has yet to be started. One year ago Mr. Ter-Poghosyan promised that the overflowing tailings dam would be put off-line, but on September 22, when we visited the site, the guard told us that tailings continue to flow into the dam when the pipes leading to the “Metz Ayrum” tailings dam burst. Shamlough Mayor Lendroush Bezhanyan also told us that the buildings housing the town’s kindergarten, hospital and cultural center belong to Serob Ter-Poghosyan do not serve community residents and that they are crumbling from disuse. Also reverting to his ownership have been the Aramyants resort buildings in Akhtala, two cultural centers in the town and other structures.