By Karine Kalantarian
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian subjected Armenia’s law-enforcement agencies to harsh criticism on Friday, alleging widespread incompetence among police officers and questioning the credibility of official figures that show a major drop in crime last year.
Speaking at a six-hour meeting of the management of his agency, Hovsepian also warned that Armenian prosecutors should stop engaging in business or risk losing their jobs. His speech could fuel renewed speculation about his far-reaching political ambitions.
It was the Armenian police, formally independent of the prosecutor’s office, that bore the brunt of the extraordinary criticism, with Hovsepian saying that many of its officers lack the professionalism, education and relevant experience to solve crimes. Prosecutors have a hard trying to correct their blunders, he charged.
“Having insufficient skills and work experience, police investigators go to the site [of a crimes], fail to properly inspect it and then conduct a poor interrogation that fails to solve the crime,” Hovsepian said.
“So the crime remains unsolved when they forward the case to an investigator [from the prosecutor’s office] ten days later,” he continued. “And the investigator is left with a poorly investigated criminal case which he will have trouble sorting out.”
Hovsepian did not name names, telling only his subordinates to work more closely with police investigators and help them with advice. Neither he nor other senior prosecutors that spoke at the meeting, attended by several senior police officers, mentioned widespread mistreatment of criminal suspects in custody. Human rights groups view it as the most common form of human rights violations in Armenia.
The Prosecutor-General’s office was also not spared criticism. In particular, Hovsepian called into question its figures showing an almost 9 percent drop in the number of crimes registered by the Armenian law-enforcement authorities last year.
“I won’t be happy with these statistics as long as I don’t know reasons for that decrease,” he explained. “When a prosecutor doesn’t know why crime is down in a community or a region, I have cause for concern. A prosecutor must find out reasons for that.
“If that is a result of good work then we must carry on. But if that reduction happened because particular types of crimes were hidden or not registered, then I don’t know.”
Hovsepian went on to admit and condemn the widespread involvement of his employees in various forms of economic activity which many believe leads to conflicts of interest and corruption. “It is impermissible for an employee of the prosecutor’s office to engage in business. This is forbidden by Armenia’s law on the prosecutor’s office,” he said.
“So let those individuals make a choice. Either they quit their job or give up their businesses,” he added without naming anyone.
Incidentally, Hovsepian himself is thought to have extensive business interests that include a major dairy firm and a television station. Observers believe that those interests gave him the muscle to stake a claim to a greater role in Armenia’s leadership.
Hovsepian is the unofficial leader of the Nig-Aparan public organization. Over a dozen of its members are parliament deputies affiliated with both pro-government and opposition factions.