A senior judicial official insisted on Friday that the Armenian authorities are not deliberately dragging out the stalled trial of former President Robert Kocharian to prevent his release from jail.
The trial began on May 13, with Kocharian facing accusations of bribery and a violent overthrow of the constitutional order strongly denied by him. A few days later, a Yerevan district court judge presiding over it, Davit Grigorian, ordered the ex-president freed from custody and suspended court hearings on the case, questioning the legality of the charges.
Prosecutors appealed against both decisions strongly condemned by political allies and supporters of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. Armenia’s Court of Appeals overturned them on June 25, leading Kocharian’s lawyers to appeal to the higher Court of Cassation.
Grigorian was charged with forgery and suspended in late July. Lawyers for the judge suggested that the charge was brought against him in retaliation against his handling of the Kocharian case.
The high-profile trial, which must now be held by another judge, has still not resumed. Kocharian’s lawyers claim that the authorities are “artificially” delaying it as part of their efforts to keep the ex-president under arrest as long as possible.
The head of Armenia’s Judicial Department, Karen Poladian, dismissed those claims. “Many people accuse the judicial system,” he told reporters. “I think that they do so for certain purposes.”
Poladian argued that Kocharian’s legal team itself sent the case to the Court of Cassation. “Until the of Court Cassation hands down a final ruling the court of first instance cannot hold hearings on the case,” he told reporters.
Poladian said the Court of Cassation will send next week a copy of the case back to the Yerevan court so that it can be assigned to another judge. The latter will then decide when the trial can resume, added the official.
One of Kocharian’s lawyers, Aram Orbelian, insisted, however, that the trial should have resumed shortly after the Court of Appeals ruling that led to his client’s renewed arrest. “The court of first instance has no legal grounds to refrain from holding hearings on the case,” Orbelian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The coup charges, which have also been leveled against two retired army generals, stem from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan which left eight anti-government protesters and two police servicemen dead. Prosecutors claim that Kocharian illegally ordered Armenian army units to break up street protests against alleged fraud in a presidential election.
Kocharian, who ruled the country from 1998-2008, rejects the accusations as politically motivated. The indicted generals also deny them.