By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s former justice minister admitted on Monday that at least the timing chosen for launching a disciplinary case against a district court judge less than two months after he sensationally cleared two businessmen of controversial charges pressed by the authorities “leaves room for concern because it at least creates an impression of a political link.”
David Harutiunian, however, said he could not completely exclude this link or insist on it as he lacked information for similar conclusions.
“The law provides maximum opportunity for judges to be protected today,” said Harutiunian, who currently heads Armenia’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Harutiunian’s remarks came after an RFE/RL request to comment on the case of Pargev Ohanian, a lower court judge who in July acquitted the main owner of the Royal Armenia coffee packaging company, Gagik Hakobian, and one of the company’s top executives Aram Ghazarian of fraud charges brought against them by prosecutors after their public accusations of senior customs officials of corruption.
Late last month the government-controlled Judicial Department made claims backed by the Council of Justice’s Disciplinary Commission that Ohanian had committed serious violations of Armenian law while adjudicating on two dozen criminal and civil cases, not including the acquittal of Royal Armenia’s businessmen, though. The move, however, is seen by many as retaliation for Ohanian’s handling of the Royal Armenia case.
In another development, acquitted businessman Gagik Hakobian was taken into custody again early this month after Armenia’s Court of Appeals issued an arrest warrant for him for failing to attend any of its hearings on an appeal filed by prosecutors against the July verdict. The businessman had earlier assured the court from Spain, where he was reportedly receiving treatment, that he wasn’t hiding from the law, but would return home soon after completing a course of treatment. Hakobian interrupted his medical treatment in Spain and flew back to Yerevan where he was detained by police at the airport immediately after disembarking from the plane.
Commenting on the situation in the case, Harutiunian said that it was up to the court to decide on whether to leave Hakobian in custody while the hearings were on or not.
But he added: “I can say only that the European Convention on Human Rights clearly states in what cases arrest can be applied and these cases are very exclusive and extreme.”