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Bank of Georgia to acquire Armenia’s Ameriabank for $304 million

20 February 2024
The Bank of Georgia HQ in Tbilisi.

Bank of Georgia has reached an agreement to acquire Ameriabank, one of the largest banks in Armenia, for $303.6 million. 

Bank of Georgia Group, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, announced its proposed acquisition of 90% of the Armenian bank on Monday. The agreement would allow the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to retain its 10% share in the bank.

The acquisition still requires approval by regulators, including the Central Bank of Armenia.

Founded in 1992, Ameriabank is one of Armenia’s largest banks, ranking seventh on the list of highest tax-paying companies in the country in 2023, at around ֏26 billion ($64 million) annually. The bank is partially owned by the former State Minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, Ruben Vardanyan.

In their announcement on Monday, Bank of Georgia Group said they intended to change their name to mark ‘a new chapter’ once they closed the Ameriabank deal.

On Monday, Ameriabank stated that it would operate as a standalone entity within the group ‘under its own brand name and current leadership in place, committed to Ameriabank’s adopted strategic goals, values, mission, and vision’. 

‘Ameriabank views this transaction with the group as one of the well-reasoned options for its long-term growth’, says the statement.


A controversial acquisition

The sale has raised eyebrows in Armenia, with some speculating it could be going ahead without the approval of shareholder Ruben Vardanyan. 

Amriabank’s website lists him as holding a significant stake in Imast Group, which owns 49% of the bank.

Vardanyan, an Armenian–Russian billionaire, served briefly as Nagorno-Karabakh’s State Minister in 2022 and 2023. He has been in prison in Azerbaijan since Nagorno-Karabakh’s surrender in September last year.

In a since-deleted Facebook post on Monday, Mesrop Arakelyan, a political ally of Vardanyan, claimed the billionaire had ‘nothing to do with the possible sale of the bank’.

Others even speculated that Azerbaijan could have influenced Vardanyan to sell his shares. Hetq’s editor-in-chief, Edik Baghdasaryan, questioned whether Vardanyan was aware of the deal or if Yerevan had looked into potential Azerbaijani involvement.

‘The largest shareholder of Ameriabank is Ruben Vardanyan. Since 27 September 2023, he has been in prison in Baku. Obviously, he is not aware of this deal. Has the government tried to find out whether Aliyev is forcing Vardanyan to sell the bank?’, he asked.

Neither Ameriabank nor Armenia’s Central Bank confirmed whether Vardanyan had consented to the sale of his shares in the bank when asked by the Armenian investigative outlet Hetq.

Others have expressed concern over what they said was a significant presence of Turkish and Azerbaijani capital in Georgia. Such concerns were dismissed by Armenian economist Haykaz Fanyan, who pointed out that as a listed company, Azerbaijani and Turkish citizens could own shares in the Bank of Georgia Group, but this would not pose a security risk and that such shareholders would not have access to personal data held by the company.

Read in Azerbaijani on Mikroskop Media.
Read in Georgian on On.ge.
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