By Karine Kalantarian
Armenian prosecutors looked set on Tuesday to press criminal charges against a pro-government parliamentarian arrested for armed assault and ask the National Assembly to lift his legal immunity from prosecution.
A source in Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General told RFE/RL that Prosecutor-General Aghvan will likely approach the assembly for that purpose later this week.
Hakob Hakobian, a member of the People’s Deputy parliamentary group, remained in custody for a third consecutive day over his role in Sunday’s reported mass brawl and shootout outside a natural gas distribution station south of Yerevan. Law-enforcement authorities say Hakobian ordered a large group of men accompanying him to attack security guards that prevented him from entering the facility. They say at least four people were seriously injured in the melee.
The lawmaker, his driver and two other associates were arrested on the spot and taken to a maximum-security basement jail in downtown Yerevan which is mainly used by the National Security Service, the Armenian successor to the KGB. Under Armenian law, the prosecutors can not keep him under arrest without the parliament’s consent for more than 72 hours.
According to Samvel Nikoyan, a senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the parliament will likely meet for an emergency session on Friday to decide whether to allow Hakobian’s prosecution on relevant charges. This means that Hakobian will apparently be released from jail by Wednesday evening.
Armenian law also requires law-enforcement bodies to immediately inform the parliament speaker about a lawmaker’s arrest. Speaker Tigran Torosian said he received a written notification from Hovsepian only on Monday afternoon, almost 14 hours after the arrest. The prosecutor-general admitted his “mistake” and promised to provide “additional explanations” in the coming days, Torosian told RFE/RL.
Hakobian, who is also a wealthy businessman, would become the first member of the current National Assembly to face prosecution and the possibility of imprisonment. A decision to strip him of the constitutionally guaranteed immunity has to be taken by the majority of fellow lawmakers in a secret ballot.
The outcome of such a vote will be by no means certain even if President Robert Kocharian pressures his loyal parliament majority to let the authorities put on Hakobian on trial. Many of its members are themselves wealthy entrepreneurs with questionable reputations.
Besides, Hakobian recently joined the HHK and will therefore count on the backing of its two top leaders, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Some observers speculate that the case could deepen alleged friction between Kocharian and Sarkisian.
Meanwhile, another, smaller party represented in Kocharian’s government, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), signaled its readiness to vote for Hakobian’s prosecution. “If this is an attempt to end the existing atmosphere of impunity and make everyone equal before the law, then it is welcome,” Vahan Hovannisian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader and deputy parliament speaker, told a news conference.
“We have nothing against Hakob Hakobian, and we can not assume the duties of a judge or prosecutor and try to justify or incriminate him,” he said. “That is to be investigated by relevant bodies.”
(Photolur photo: Hakob Hakobian.)