Armenia’s leading anti-corruption watchdog on Wednesday expressed concern over the choice of a company that will spend about $6 million allocated by the Armenian government for American rapper Snoop Dogg’s upcoming concert in Yerevan.
The government sparked controversy when it approved the funding, which covers the singer’s performance fee and logistics expenses, in early August 11. Government officials said the money is worth it because the concert slated for September 23 will raise Armenia’s international profile and attract thousands of foreign tourists.
Critics shrugged off the explanation, condemning the government decision as reckless extravagance aimed at distracting Armenians from grave national security problems facing their country. Some of them also pointed to drug references in Snoop Dogg’s songs. The rap star has had a history of using drugs.
The entire sum exceeding the annual budgets of most rural communities of Armenia will be handled by a little-known private company. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government chose the company called Doping Space and signed a contract with it on August 18 without a tender. The government did not explain why it avoided competitive bidding.
It emerged afterwards that the allocation took the form of a government grant, a highly unusual arrangement that prompted serious concern from the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian affiliated of Transparency International.
“We need to understand why they gave the grant to that company without a tender,” Varuzhan Hoktanian, the ACC’s programs director, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Wednesday.
“I suppose that just like in the case of procurements there should have been a tender here,” said Hoktanian. “Especially in the case of such a large sum, a tender must be obligatory. We would consider it non-obligatory only if no other company had the capacity to organize such an event.”
Doping Space was set up as recently as in July this year and is not known to have organized any major entertainment events. One of its two-founders, Makar Petrosian, is a son of a wealthy businessman who used to have close ties to Armenia’s former governments. Incidentally, prosecutors accused Petrosian, his father Alik and other family members of illicit enrichment and moved to confiscate some of their assets late last month.
In addition to its share of the government funding, the Snoop Dogg concert organizer hopes to raise an equivalent of $1.5 million from ticket sales. The contract requires it to pay only $63,000 of the ticket revenue to the government.
Doping Space’s 7-page cost breakdown publicized by the government indicates that about $3 million will be paid to Snoop Dogg and his production team.
The other half of the government money is to be spent on promotional, logistical and other services to be provided by the company. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, some Armenian entertainment industry executives suggested that their costs are inflated.
“Most, if not all, of those services could have been provided at more affordable prices,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.