Law-enforcement officials raided the offices of Armenia’s Constitutional Court and former ruling Republican Party (HHK) on Thursday after launching criminal proceedings against the court’s embattled chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian.
Other investigators visited and questioned his elderly father.
The developments came two days after most members of the Constitutional Court refused to oust Tovmasian. The Armenian parliament called for his dismissal in an October 4 appeal drafted by its majority loyal to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
A non-partisan member of the parliament, Arman Babajanian, went further, demanding that law-enforcement authorities prosecute Tovmasian. Babajanian charged that the latter colluded with other key members of Armenia’s former HHK-dominated leadership to illegally become head of the Constitutional Court in March 2018.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) announced on Thursday morning that it has decided to open a criminal case in connection with Babajanian’s written demand. It said it has launched an investigation into a possible “usurpation of state authority by a group of individuals.”
An SIS official visited the HHK headquarters in Yerevan in the following hours. According to the party’s deputy chairman, Armen Ashotian, he confiscated documents relating to the termination of Tovmasian’s membership in the HHK in early 2018.
The SIS also carried out what it called “investigative actions” inside the Constitutional Court building in the Armenian capital. The court secretariat refused to comment on the probe, saying that Tovmasian is on vacation at the moment.
Under Armenian law, Tovmasian cannot be prosecuted without the consent of at least five of the nine members of the country’s highest court. Two of those judges, Alvina Gyulumian and Arevik Petrosian, declined to comment on the unprecedented proceedings when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenians service.
HHK representatives denounced the case as politically motivated. “Pashinian’s regime is looking for internal enemies in the country,” said the former ruling party’s spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov.
Ruben Melikian, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former human rights ombudsman highly critical of Pashinian’s government, likewise described Tovmasian as a victim of political persecution.
Melikian also claimed that another law-enforcement agency, the National Security Service (NSS), has summoned Tovmasian’s father Vartan and two daughters for questioning. “Guys, do you realize what red line you are erasing?” he wrote on Facebook, referring to the authorities.
Later in the day NSS officers questioned Vartan Tovmasian in his home in a village south of Yerevan. Tovmasian Sr. told reporters afterwards that they only asked him questions about the roof of his state-owned one-story house.
“They wondered when we built the roof, how much we spent on it, where we got the money from and so on,” he said. “They did not ask other questions or search the house. They just said they want to check the roof.”
The 75-year-old added that he is ready to visit the NSS headquarters and answer more questions there on Friday. He did not confirm that the powerful security service also wants to interrogate Hrayr Tovmasian’s daughters.
The NSS said that it will comment on the matter later on. It did not issue any statements as of Thursday evening.
Tovmasian claimed on October 2 that the authorities are seeking to force him out in order to gain control over the Constitutional Court and be able to make unconstitutional decisions. He said he will not bow to the pressure despite recent arrests of two individuals linked to him.
In a September 4 ruling read out by Tovmasian, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a legal provision used by SIS investigators against Armenia’s jailed former President Robert Kocharian. Pashinian called the ruling “illegal.” The prime minister charged earlier Tovmasian had cut political deals with HHK leader and former President Serzh Sarkisian to “privatize” the court.
Meanwhile, Vahe Grigorian, the court’s newest member installed by the current parliament in June, insisted that he sees no political motives behind the law-enforcement authorities’ latest moves against Tovmasian.
Grigorian also continued to challenge the legitimacy of Tovmasian and six other court justices appointed before the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018. “This crisis in the Constitutional Court is much deeper than Hrayr Tovmasian and his past activities or current behavior,” he said.