An ad hoc commission of the Armenian parliament officially began on Wednesday an inquiry into leaked phone calls between two high-ranking law-enforcement officials which have caused a political scandal in the country.
The heads of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) and Special Investigative Service (SIS) apparently spoke in July shortly before former President Robert Kocharian was arrested as part of an SIS-led investigation into the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. The conversations were wiretapped and posted on the Internet earlier this month.
In particular, the NSS’s Artur Vanetsian told the SIS’s Sasun Khachatrian that he ordered a judge to sanction Kocharian’s controversial arrest. 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.
Pashinian condemned the “illegal” wiretapping and denied putting pressure on investigators. The scandal led Armenian prosecutors to order an investigation.
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. Top representatives of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the country’s largest parliamentary force, have echoed these claims.
At the HHK’s initiative, the parliament decided to set up the special multi-partisan commission on September 12. Lawmakers representing the pro-Pashinian Yelk alliance objected to the decision. Still, Yelk agreed to name two of the eleven members of the commission.
The panel held its first meeting on Wednesday. It was chaired by Gevorg Kostanian, an HHK parliamentarian who served as Armenia’s prosecutor-general from 2013-2016.
Kostanian said after the meeting that members of the commission will submit next week proposals on which documents it must request from relevant state bodies and who should be asked to testify at its further meetings. He also made clear that it will focus on a possible “obstruction of justice” by the NSS and the SIS chiefs.
“We have a special clause in the Criminal Code regarding obstruction of justice,” Kostanian told reporters. “No criminal case has been opened under that clause. Therefore, the commission is entitled to conducting a full investigation within that framework.”
He said the panel will also look at whether the Office of the Prosecutor-General has carried out“proper oversight” over the ongoing criminal investigations into the 2008 violence and the legality of Kocharian’s arrest in particular.