Law-enforcement bodies searched the offices of an Armenian news website on Monday as part of a criminal investigation into leaked recordings of phone conversations between two high-ranking security officials.
Officers of a special police unit and the Investigative Committee confiscated several computer hard disks belonging to the Yerevan.today publication. Its editor, Sevak Hakobian, condemned the seven-hour search, saying that his media outlet has all but suspended its operations as a result.
“Our guys are unable to work because they took away four or five hard disks,” Hakobian told reporters. “In effect, our work is paralyzed.”
The search stems from a wiretapping scandal that rocked the Armenian political scene last week. Unknown individuals posted on the Internet the audio of two recent phone calls between the heads of two other Armenian law-enforcement bodies: the National Security Service (NSS) and the Special Investigative Service (SIS). Both agencies acknowledged its authenticity.
The NSS’s Artur Vanetsian and the SIS’s Sasun Khachatrian discussed an SIS-led inquiry into the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. In particular, Vanetsian told Khachatrian that he ordered a judge to allow the SIS to arrest former President Robert Kocharian in July.
Vanetsian also urged the SIS not to arrest Yuri Khachaturov, the Armenian secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), warning of a negative reaction from Russia. He noted that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian wants investigators to “lock up” Khachaturov.
Kocharian, who was released from pre-trial custody in August, has portrayed the audio as further proof that the criminal case against him is politically motivated and directed by Pashinian. For his part, the Armenian premier has condemned the “illegal” wiretapping and denied putting pressure on investigators.
The scandal led Armenian prosecutors to order an investigation. The Investigative Committee said that the law-enforcement officers raided the Yerevan.today offices as part of that probe. It said they searched this and five other locations in a bid to ascertain “the method of the secret recording and dissemination” of the sensitive conversations.
A statement by the committee also said that Yerevan.today posted the scandalous audio on its website earlier than other Armenian media outlets. Hakobian strongly denied that and denounced the police actions as “irresponsible.”
“I consider this an attempt to damage our activities,” said the website editor. He claimed that the officers also looked for wiretapping devices in his premises. They also searched the home of the Yerevan.today owner, Vartan Hovnanian, he added.
Hakobian further denied government loyalists’ claims that Yerevan.today is controlled or financed by Kocharian. The latter was interviewed by the online publication last week.