A former employee of Armenia’s electricity distribution network, who was fired in 2013 after accusing company executives of corruption, has filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The 65-year-old Hrachya Harutiunian used a company hotline to allege a large-scale fraud scheme within the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA) operator which was owned at the time by Inter RAO, a state-owned Russian energy giant. The allegations were contained in a confidential letter which he sent to the company’s special e-mail address.
The ENA management responded by accusing Harutiunian of defamation and firing him. It went on to file a libel suit against him.
An Armenian court of instance rejected that lawsuit. However, the higher Court of Appeals found Harutiunian guilty of defamation and ordered him to apologize for his allegations and pay ENA 5 million drams ($10,400) in damages.
The man’s lawyer, Ara Ghazarian, on Friday condemned the latter verdict as illegal. Ghazarian argued that under Armenian law even false claims that are not publicized through mass media or otherwise cannot be deemed slanderous. He said his client never went public with the fraud allegations.
In Ghazarian’s words, the ECHR has already started looking into the case filed by Harutiunian. He said he expects the Strasbourg-based court to rule against ENA.
“He reported corruption,” the lawyer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Instead of thanking him, they punished him for his civic activism.”
ENA sparked two-week street demonstrations in Yerevan in June 2015 when it attempted to significantly raise its electricity prices. The protests were driven by a widely held belief that Armenians are being made to pay for widespread corruption within the ENA management. While defending the tariff rise, Armenian government officials acknowledged that the national power grids have been mismanaged by the Russian-owned operator.
Inter RAO sold its Armenian subsidiary to the Tashir Group of Samvel Karapetian, an Armenian-born Russian businessman, later in 2015. The new owner claims to have sharply cut ENA’s massive financial losses since then.