Law-enforcement authorities challenged on Tuesday the legality of Hrayr Tovmasian’s appointment in March 2018 as chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court after bringing coup charges against a former senior official.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said that the former Armenian parliament elected Tovmasian court chairman as a result of a “usurpation of power” by a “group of officials.” It claimed that they broke laws to install him just before the entry into force in April 2018 of sweeping constitutional amendments.
The amendments introduced a six-year term in office for the head of Armenia’s highest court. Tovmasian was picked to run the court under the previous constitution which allows him to hold the post until the age of 70. He was elected shortly after the resignation of the court’s previous, long-serving chairman, Gagik Harutiunian.
In a statement, the SIS claimed that the then deputy chief of the parliament staff, Arsen Babayan, illegally backdated Harutiunian’s letter of resignation in order to make sure that all legal deadlines for Tovmasian’s swift election are met. It said that Babayan, who was arrested on Monday, has been charged with forgery and seizure of power. The former official strongly denies the accusations, according to his lawyers.
The statement also said that the SIS investigators suspect former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan of involvement in the alleged coup. Babloyan was interrogated by them earlier in the day.
The SIS stopped short of indicting Tovmasian, who has been under growing government pressure to step down. It launched the coup probe on October 17 two days after seven of the eight other members of the Constitutional Court rejected the government-controlled parliament’s demands to replace their chairman.
Former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), with which Tovmasian was affiliated until February 2018, says the investigation is part of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s continuing efforts to force the high court chairman to resign. Pashinian and his political allies deny any political motives behind it.
Pashinian charged in July that Tovmasian “privatized” the Constitutional Court with the help of the HHK. He implicitly demanded changes in the court’s composition.
Tovmasian claimed on October 2 that the current authorities are seeking to oust him in order to gain control over the court and be able to make unconstitutional decisions. He said he will not bow to the pressure.