By Emil Danielyan and Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian indicated on Monday his continuing opposition to government plans for a sweeping overhaul of his law-enforcement body which looks set to lose its most significant power.
A government bill, drafted and championed by Justice Minister David Harutiunian, would strip the Office of the Prosecutor-General of its prerogative to conduct pre-trial criminal investigations and give such authority only to the police and the National Security Service. The bill was debated by the Armenian parliament last week and is due to be put to the vote next month.
It is part of a structural reform of Armenia’s judicial and law-enforcement systems that was unveiled by Harutiunian in June last year amid apparent strong resistance from Hovsepian and other senior prosecutors. President Robert Kocharian reportedly had to intervene in the dispute, eventually siding with Harutiunian. This was seen as a serious setback for the influential chief prosecutor.
Hovsepian was cited Monday as voicing strong reservations about the proposed change at a meeting with two officials from the Council of Europe. “The prosecutor-general of the Republic of Armenia expressed a largely positive attitude towards the draft law, but at the same time noted that it does not settle all issues,” his press service said in a statement. No further details were reported.
The thinly veiled criticism is unlikely to deter the government from pressing ahead with the reform that will essentially reduce the prosecutors’ role to defending and substantiating criminal accusations in courts. The prosecutors have until now handled the bulk of the criminal inquiries in Armenia, giving them ample powers and, according to critics, corruption opportunities.
Speaking to RFE/RL last Wednesday, Harutiunian said the government plans to start implementing the reform in June. Investigators employed by the Office of the Prosecutor-General will be offered to transfer to the police or the National Security Service, he said.
“Criminal investigations will be conducted by other bodies,” said Harutiunian. “The main burden will fall on the police and the National Security Service. I don’t exclude that over time investigative units will be set up in other structures such as the customs and tax services.”
(Photolur phtoto: Aghvan Hovsepian.)