Two more Armenian judges as well as one prosecutor have been accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in return for making illegal decisions on two court cases in the country’s Gegharkunik province.
It also emerged on Tuesday that law-enforcement authorities have arrested six other local residents who allegedly arranged or paid the kickbacks to the chairman of the Gegharkunik court of general jurisdiction, Aghvan Petrosian, one of its judges, Vanik Vartanian, and a regional prosecutor, Sevak Shoyan.
Petrosian and Shoyan have been taken into custody. Armenia’s Justice Council was expected to give the green light to Vartanian’s arrest later in the day.
A statement by the Office of the Prosecutor-General claimed that Petrosian was paid $23,000 to hand a suspended prison sentence to a young man prosecuted for his role in a violent assault that occurred in Vartenis, a small regional town, in 2014. Armenia’s Court of Appeals subsequently struck down the lenient sentence and sent it back to the Gegharkunik court.
According to the statement, the Vartenis man was detained and went on trial even though Shoyan, the local prosecutor, received a $4,000 bribe from the suspect’s parents.
The statement added that the two judges were also paid around $2,500 in exchange for an “illegal verdict” in a property dispute involving other Gegharkunik residents. The ruling was handed down by Vartanian, it said.
Two other Armenian judges are being prosecuted on similar charges. One of them, Ishkhan Barseghian, was allegedly caught red-handed in October while being paid $1,000 by a citizen. Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) circulated video purportedly showing him receiving the sum at an underground pass in Yerevan. Barseghian, who served in a district court in Yerevan for 20 years, pleaded not guilty when he went on trial in April.
Another judge was charged with taking a $600 bribe last month. He worked in the lower court of the Ararat and Vayots Dzor provinces.
Despite having undergone frequent structural changes over the past two decades, Armenia’s judicial system is still regarded by many people as corrupt and highly dependent on the government. Armenia’s former human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, highlighted the problem in a 2013 report that accused judges of routinely taking bribes.
The report based on confidential interviews with lawyers, judges and prosecutors singled out the Court of Cassation, the highest body of criminal justice in the country. Both the court and an Armenian government body monitoring the judiciary denied the allegations.
Yervand Varosian, a well-known defense attorney, insisted on Tuesday that bribery among Armenian judges remains widespread. “Few people in the judicial system are not corrupt,” Varosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Only sweeping personnel changes in the judiciary can eradicate the illegal practice, he said.