Making Millions: Armenia’s Self-Service Payment Terminals Owned by Companies Linked to Former Government Officials
People in Armenia are increasingly turning to self-service payment terminals to make a variety of transactions.
Whether it’s to pay utility bills or refill their smartphones, the convenience of doing so without going to the bank or a brick and mortar payment office is attracting more people to use these terminals.
This trend has given rise to an increasing number of such terminals in shops and along the streets of Yerevan and other urban centers.
Researching the market, Hetq has learnt, to no surprise, that the leading players - Telcell, Idram, EasyPay, MobiDram – are linked to former government officials and banking system companies.
What follows are the results of our investigation, detailing the companies involved and the profits they are making as “transactional intermediaries”.
Telcell #1 in Revenue
According to Armenia’s Central Bank (CBA), these companies are classified as payment and settlement organizations. Their activities are regulated by the Law on Payment and Settlement Systems and Payment and Settlement Organizations. Armenian Card (ArCa) is also on this list, but we have listed only organizations that have payment terminals.
The leading company in this market, according to revenue, is Telcell. According to company’s latest published financials, the company had revenues of 3.220 billion drams (US$6.742 at today’s exchange rate) in 2018.
Telcell’s 2018 financial report states that the shareholders of the company are Lendasy Trading Ltd (56.28%), Aram Sargsyan (37.91%) and Tatevik Avetisyan (5.81%).
The company's Armenian shareholders are not your rank and file citizens. Aram Sargsyan is the former Deputy Head of the Organizing and Control Department of the State Revenue Committee (SRC).
Aram Sargsyan, in his 2018 financial disclosure, reported dividends of AMD 170 million, but did not specify the companies. In his disclosure filed upon his dismissal, Sargsyan reported stock dividends of 114 million drams from five companies
Tatevik Avetisyan is the former Armenian Deputy Minister of Transport and Communication (2009-2014), and the daughter of Artashes Avetisyan, who served as Advisor to the Central Bank President (2007-2009). She is also the sister of Sergey Avetisyan, the former Chief of the General Department of Civil Aviation (2016-2018), and now Deputy Director of Armenia International Airport CJSC.
When Telcell started operating in 2007, Artashes Avetisyan held the position of Advisor to the President of the CBA.
Lendasy Trading Ltd is registered in the offshore zone of Cyprus, and is owned by another Cyprus-registered company, Largos World Limited.
Second in terms of revenue is Easy Pay. In 2018, the company had revenues of AMD 1.831 billion.
Easy Pay LLC was founded in April 2014. Company shares are owned by Narine Nazaryan (7%), her mother Karine Pashinyan (73%), and Anni Harutyunyan (20%).
Narine Nazaryan is the wife of Vigen Militonyan, State Prosecutor of Yerevan’s Avan and Nor Nork administrative districts.
Narine Nazaryan's father (Karine Pashinyan's husband Fred Nazaryan) is a trustee of the Dovegh Charitable Foundation. Robert Nazaryan, former Chairman of Armenia’s Public Services Regulatory Commission, is also on the Dovegh board. The foundation has implemented several projects in Tavush’s Dovegh community in 2017-2018, including those in cooperation with VivaCell-MTS.
Narine Nazaryan, as the wife of a prosecutor, has submitted annual financial declarations to the Ethics Committee for High-Ranking Officials. They show dividends of 6․9 million drams in 2018 and dividends of 1.9 million drams in 2017. The disclosures fail to note from which companies.
Coming in third is Idram, reporting 1.552 in revenues for 2018.
The company was founded in 2008. Idram modified its corporate logo last year and now resembles the ID Bank logo. (ID Bank officials agree that the two logos are similar but point out they aren’t identical.)
Although ID Bank says it has a “cooperation agreement with Idram and nothing more", there is, in fact, a deeper connection between the companies. One of the shareholders of Idram is the wife of one of the bank's employees.
The 100% shareholder of Idram LLC is Digital Holdings Limited. 5% of the latter is owned by SAFMAR Industrial and Financial Group Executive Director Avet Mirakyan, and 95% is owned by Drivelio Holdings Limited, a Cyprus-based company. Mirakyan is also a financial supporter of the IDeA Foundation of Armenia and a supporter of the Aurora Humanitarian Award.
Drivelio Holdings Limited, in turn, has two owners. One of them is Narine Harutyunyan, the wife of Avetik Mirakyan who is affiliated with ID Bank. On his LinkedIn social networking site, Avetik Mirakyan notes that he has worked at ID Bank since 2017 and at the Financial Oversight Department of the CBA from 2009-2010 and 2015-2017.
ID Bank declined to comment on whether Avetik Mirakyan is currently working at the bank, and if so, in what department. "The Bank does not provide any information to any person as to whether he / she is not an employee, since it is personal data, which is protected by the RA Law on Protection of Personal Data. Thus, you can verify the necessary information from the person with the given name and surname," reads the bank’s reply to Hetq.
The other shareholder of Drivelio Holdings Limited, a Cyprus-registered company, is Lala Bakhshetsyan, wife of Digital Holdings Limited Director Ruben Kurghinyan.
The smallest company in the market is MobiDram CJSC, whose revenue in 2018 was 213 million drams.
MobiDram is a subsidiary of MTS Armenia (VivaCell-MTS), a mobile operator.
MobiDram was founded in 2011. The sole shareholder of the company is MTS Armenia CJSC VivaCell-MTS. The legal address of MobiDram CJSC is 4/1 Argishti Street, Yerevan. It’s also the address for the head office of MTS Armenia.
The CEO of MobiDram is Kim Avanesyan, who is also the Head of Management, Risk and Control Department at MTS Armenia CJSC. He was appointed CEO in May 2014.
Overall, the revenues of the four companies totaled AMD 6.816 billion. Telcell had the lion’s share (47&), followed by Easy Pay (26.9%), Idram (23%0 and MobiDram (3.1%).
Tel-Cell #1 in Profits
Three of the companies posted a profit in 2018, and one closed the year with a loss.
The net profit of the four companies totaled AMD 1.319 billion (US$2.761 million).
Leading the way to profit is Telcell, whose net profit in 2018 was 526.2 million drams. Idram posted a net profit of about 471 million drams during the year, and Easy Pay - some 400 million drams. MobiDram closed the year with a loss of 78 million drams.
Note that the financial statements of companies are published annually and audited. In all four, the auditors believed the reports provided true and accurate data.
Photos taken from company websites