Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian denied through a spokesman on Monday opposition claims that he ordered criminal proceedings against the chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasian, in a bid to force the latter to resign.
Pashinian’s spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, at the same time effectively accused Tovmasian of complicity in “crimes” committed by members of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Two law-enforcement agencies announced separate criminal investigations into Tovmasian on October 17 two days after seven of the eight other Constitutional Court rejected the Armenian parliament’s calls for his dismissal.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said it is investigating a possible “usurpation of power” by Tovmasian and former senior officials that helped him become head of the country’s highest court in 2018. For its part, the National Security Service (NSS) interrogated his father and two daughters.
HHK representatives as well as other critics of Pashinian denounced the criminal proceedings as acts of political prosecution. They were particularly critical of the NSS’s actions, saying that the authorities are now targeting Tovmasian’s relatives as part of their efforts to oust the court chairman.
Karapetian brushed aside those claims. “If the NSS has some questions regarding corruption issues then I see nothing wrong with that,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “That body can address questions to any person. The proceedings are carried out at this level at this point, and any talk of [government] pressure is just meaningless.”
“They know very well who Hrayr Tovmasian is,” Karapetian said of the HHK critics. “He shares their ideology, he is well aware of the spate of crimes which … had been committed by many representatives of that party. This explains their support for their, so to speak, last of the Mohicans.”
The official also made clear that Pashinian stands by his recent claims that Tovmasian, who used to be affiliated with the HHK, was installed as Constitutional Court chairman as a result of legally questionable political deals cut with Armenia’s former political leadership.
Tovmasian, who also served as justice minister from 2010-2013, dismissed those claims. He said on October 2 that the authorities want to force him out in order to gain control over Armenia’s highest court.
Under Armenian law, Tovmasian cannot be prosecuted without the consent of at least five other members of the Constitutional Court. In a joint statement issued on Friday, seven court justices said they are “monitoring developments relating to Hrayr Tovmasian and members of his family and will react if need be.”
The head of the SIS, Sasun Khachatrian, stressed on Monday that Tovmasian has not been charged or regarded by his investigators as a suspect as yet. But he did not rule out the possibility of such charges.
“Do you want me to make presumptions?” Khachatrian told reporters. “I repeat that … a criminal case been opened in connection with the existence of signs of an apparent crime.”
SIS officers raided the Constitutional Court and HHK headquarters in Yerevan to confiscate some documents on Thursday.
On Friday, the NSS sought to justify it decision to summon Tovmasian’s father and two daughters for questioning.
In a statement, the former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB said it is investigating a possible misuse of some 855 million drams ($1.8 million) in funding allocated by the Justice Ministry in 2012 for capital repairs of three buildings. It said also suspected that Tovmasian’s relatives had not submitted accurate asset declarations to a state body.
Lawyers for Tovmasian’s family said NSS officers asked his daughters on Friday questions about a car and a garage which they received as a gift from a cousin who emigrated to the United States in 2016. According to them, Tovmasian’s 75-year-old father was summoned to the NSS headquarters to explain who repaired the roof of his house in a village near Yerevan.