By Karine Kalantarian
The presidentially appointed Council of Justice overseeing Armenia’s courts wrapped up Thursday two-day hearings on punitive action sought by another judicial body against a judge who was responsible for one of the most sensational acquittals in the country’s history.
The government-controlled Judicial Department instituted disciplinary proceedings against Pargev Ohanian, a judge of a district court in Yerevan, on September 4, less than two months after he acquitted two businessmen controversially prosecuted by the Armenian authorities. The move, which could result in Ohanian’s dismissal, is seen by many as a retaliation for a rare court defeat suffered by law-enforcement bodies and the National Security Service (NSS) in particular.
The Judicial Department claimed that Ohanian committed serious violations of Armenian law while adjudicating on two dozen criminal and civil cases. The Council of Justice’s Disciplinary Commission backed the allegations and detailed them at the start of the public hearings on Wednesday. Most of the alleged violations relate to what the Judicial Department regards as wrong verdicts handed down by Ohanian.
Neither the Judicial Department, nor the Disciplinary Commission specified just how Ohanian should be sanctioned. Under the Armenian constitution, the Council of Justice can go as far as to ask President Robert Kocharian to fire the judge. Hovannes Manukian, a senior judge who presided over the hearings, said the council will announce its decision on October 12.
The judicial bodies found no violations in the July 16 acquittal of Gagik Hakobian, the main owner of the Royal Armenia coffee packaging company, and one of its top executives, Aram Ghazarian. They were arrested and charged with fraud in October 2005 after publicly accusing senior customs officials of corruption. The NSS demanded that they be sentenced to at least ten years in prison.
However, Ohanian dismissed the accusations as baseless and ordered the immediate release of the two men. It was the first time that the Armenian successor to the former KGB lost a major court case.
Addressing the Council of Justice at the end of the hearings, Ohanian again implied that he believes he is being penalized for his handling of the Royal Armenia case. “Distinguished Council, do not turn me into a hero,” he said. “I simply did my job, I carried out justice. At least, I tried to apply the law.”
Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian, who also has considerable influence on the Armenian judiciary, denied this week any link between the disciplinary action and the Royal Armenia ruling.
Speaking at the hearings on Wednesday, Ohanian’s defense counsel, Hayk Alumian, dismissed the accusations brought against his client. “In effect, members of the Disciplinary Commission are calling into question rulings that went into force in accordance with law,” he said. “This is inadmissible.”
Alumian also complained that the department is refusing to specify when it decided to inspect the work of the defiant judge. “These were inspections carried out during an unknown period of time because there are no dates on written results of those inspections,” he said. “Nor do they contain the names of those people who carried out those inspections.”
(Photolur photo: Pargev Ohanian.)