By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian has reacted with dismay to the inner-government row over the alleged misuse of a 1999 World Bank loan to Armenia’s judiciary, according to some leaders of the parliament majority who met him over the weekend.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, they told RFE/RL on Monday that Kocharian expressed his discontent with the public spat between parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Justice Minister David Harutiunian over the findings of the National Assembly’s Audit Chamber. But they said he stopped short of siding with either politician.
In an annual report unveiled last month, the parliament body controlled by Baghdasarian decried the “inefficient use” of a $4.45 million share of the $11.5 million credit which was set aside for repairing and reconstructing 20 rundown court buildings across Armenia. It argued that only 11 courts have benefited from the scheme designed to strengthen the country’s judiciary.
Baghdasarian and Harutiunian publicly clashed over the allegations during a parliament session. The latter vehemently denies any wrongdoing, accusing the Audit Chamber of lacking professionalism and manipulating facts. He pledged on May 14 to hold the Chamber accountable for the allegations.
A Justice Ministry body in charge of the implementation of the World Bank project was scheduled meet later in the day to discuss the matter. Journalists were invited to cover the meeting. Invitations were also extended to the head of the Audit Chamber, Gagik Voskanian, and his top aides. None of them was in Yerevan, however.
The oversight body was also attacked on Monday by a member of the parliament’s People’s Deputy group of non-partisan lawmakers supporting Kocharian. Hakob Hakobian charged that it is manipulated by Baghdasarian to conduct arbitrary inspections of government agencies and present an incomplete or distorted picture of how they use public funds. Observers believe that the People’s Deputy leader Karen Karapetian was behind the verbal attack on the speaker.
Karapetian, Baghdasarian were among the leaders of all pro-establishment factions of the parliament who met with Kocharian on Saturday. It was the second such meeting in just over a month.
A brief statement by the presidential press service said the meeting focused on the work of the National Assembly and issues to be discussed during its upcoming sittings. Karapetian and other participants likewise said that they mainly discussed their “legislative work.”
According to Mher Shahgeldian, chairman of the parliament committee on defense and security, Kocharian and his top allies also agreed that the almost four-month opposition boycott has not weakened or undermined the assembly.