Armenian Oligarches Active in France

Liana Sayadyan, Edik Baghdasaryan

During the past few years Armenian oligarches have transferred a significant portion of their capital from Armenia. Several of them have been captivated by the charms of France and many have purchased apartments and homes in Paris. Gagik Tzaroukyan has also bought real estate in the French capital. The largest transactions have been conducted by Hrayr Hakobyan and Parliament Deputy Tigran Arzakantsyan.

In October 2007 Mr. Hakobyan purchased the Châtenay chateau and its grape vineyards for 4.8 million Euros. The 40 hectare expanse once belonged to the well-know Gregoire family and includes the castle, vineyards and a vodka distillery.

The specialist magazine “Cognac World” published in the town of Cognac wrote, “ A new cognac lord, who wished to remain anonymous during the purchase, oversees an empire.” The magazine was referring to the oligarch’s business in Armenia.

Hrayr Hakobyan doesn’t participate in the political life of Armenia. The regime once tried to get him involved in the TV broadcast industry. After “A1+” was stripped of its license Hakobyan’s “Dolfi” company tried to obtain the rights to the frequency, but later went into another line of work.

Hrayr Hakobyan is the sole owner of Yerevan’s Champagne-Wine Factory. Along with his brother, Versandik Hakobyan, he also owns “Armenian International Airways” and “Astghadzor Travel” tourist agency. The family also owns a network of restaurants in Yerevan and Moscow. They also own an insurance company, a taxi service, large tracts of land, a tobacco plant and other businesses. (One can get additional information on the Hakobyan family business empire at: www.hhr.am)

Mr H. Hakobyan purchased the Champagne-Wine Factory, established in 1939, at a rock-bottom price in 1995. Today, this concern is one of Armena’s largest alcohol producers. The plant produces wine, vodka, different types of cognac and cocktail drinks and has the capacity to churn out 10 million bottles per year. It is hard to say how many bottles are being produced today given that alcohol production in Armenia is mostly a shadow economy enterprise.

The Châtenay chalet is considered to be one of the gems of the town of Cognac. The chalet, on the banks of the Charente River, is surrounded by 40 hectares of land of which 21 hectares is planted with vineyards. It is the only grape vineyard in Cognac. The on-site distillery produces vodka from grapes from the vineyards.

In the summer of this year Armen Petrosyan, who has been given the sobriquet of “King of Caviar” in France, joined forces with Hakob Hakobyan to start caviar production on that historic land and they introduced a business plan to open a top-quality restaurant. The crux of the plan is to establish a sturgeon breeding operation on Hakobyan’s land and to produce the Siberian strain of caviar. The idea is to develop an entire eco-tourism complex around the cognac and caviar. There’s a huge problem however. French law prohibits large-scale construction projects and fish-production equipment to be installed on the land which is home to an historical complex. The Châtenay chalet is located on a stretch of land which is linked to the underground potable water system of the gardens of Francois the First. Armen Petrosyan is attempting to resolve the matter but it’s still not clear what the outcome of this plan, which has raised the ire of local residents, will be.

For the first time after Hakobyan purchased the land cognac was bottled under the “Jule Caminade and Co.” label, the traditional brand of the chalet. Mr. Hakobyan has also decided to bottle cognac using his own private label.

The French press has published reports claiming that “Armenians are making investments in Cognac to cover up their sham cognac business.”

The other oligarch conducting business in France is National Assembly Deputy Tigran Arzakantsyan. He has purchased the “Hine” bottling plant in the town of Jarnac and has signed a buy and sell contract with cognac producer George Roulet.

In September of last year an attempt was made to murder Arzakantsyan, who owns the “Great Valley” cognac factory, in a Moscow casino. After the incident people in France grew wary of the Armenian businessman.

The magazine “Cognac World” wrote that, “...the investments being made by Tigran Arzakantsyan in the cognac industry are raising fear and concern among cognac professionals who have also brought the issue to the attention of the authorities who intend to follow his activities in Cognac.”

After the attempt on his life in Moscow of last year Tigran Arzakantsyan stopped attending National Assembly sessions. His near death experience, however, doesn’t seem to interfere with his plans to expand his business in France.

Photos by Phil Messelet, Majid Bouzzit, “Cognac du Pays”