By Astghik Bedevian
A court in Yerevan ordered prosecutors on Friday to investigate allegations by opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian that government agents illegally entered last year the sealed headquarters of his Zharangutyun party and stole confidential information from its main computer.
The allegations stem from Zharangutyun’s dispute with a state theater from which Hovannisian had for years leased office space. The theater management controversially terminated the lease in March 2006, locking the opposition party out of its offices in downtown Yerevan.
Zharangutyun condemned the decision as illegal and politically motivated, linking it to Hovannisian’s December 2005 open letter to President Robert Kocharian which effectively implicated the latter in high-profile political murders and electoral fraud. It had to look for a new office after losing a lengthy court battle with the theater.
Hovannisian and his aides have also said that just days after they were forced out of their offices unknown individuals accessed the party’s computer database and downloaded confidential information about their supporters and political activities. They claim that the information was used by the Armenian authorities for identifying and harassing Zharangutyun activists across the country.
Zharangutyun, which is one of the two opposition parties represented in Armenia’s newly elected parliament, took the Office of the Prosecutor-General after the latter repeatedly refused to launch a criminal investigation into what Hovannisian’s party calls the “Armenian Watergate” scandal. The party unexpectedly won the case, with a district court in Yerevan ordering the law-enforcement agency to open a relevant criminal case.
“The court's judgment must light the way toward true justice, a real investigation, and the full accountability before the law of both the masterminds and accomplices of this dastardly crime,” Hovannisian after the announcement of the verdict.
Karo Karapetian, who represented the prosecutors in the court, argued that they failed to institute criminal proceedings because of the conflicting results of forensic examinations conducted by the Armenian police at the former Zharangutyun headquarters. A police forensic expert concluded at first that the Zharangutyun computer was indeed tampered with but later claimed the opposite.