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Former Parliament Speaker Rejects Coup Claims


Armenia - Speaker Ara Babloyan at a parliament session in Yerevan, January 15, 2018.

Armenia’s former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan strongly denied on Wednesday any involvement in a “usurpation of power” alleged by a law-enforcement agency as he risked being prosecuted on coup charges.

Babloyan claimed that he broke laws while in office only when he helped Nikol Pashinian come to power last year.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said on Tuesday that a “group of officials” seized power in Armenia shortly before the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” by installing Hrayr Tovmasian as chairman of the Constitutional Court. It alleged that Tovmasian’s appointment by the former parliament was accompanied by serious violations of Armenian laws.

In particular, the SIS accused Babloyan of illegally accepting and announcing the resignation of Tovmasian’s predecessor, Gagik Harutiunian, before receiving a relevant letter from the latter. Still, the law-enforcement body stopped short of indicting the former speaker, saying that it regards him only as a suspect in the case for now.

“I acted within the limits of the constitution and laws,” Babloyan told reporters. “I did not violate the constitution. I did not violate any law.”

Babloyan insisted that Harutiunian’s letter of resignation “was on my desk” when he signed it on March 2, 2018. He said he does not know why the former Constitutional Court chairman decided to step down at the time.

“I can only answer one question if they identify and raise that question: I assisted Nikol Pashinian in coming to power. That’s where I committed a violation,” added the ex-speaker. He refused to elaborate.

Armenia - Parliament speaker Ara Babloyan (L) meets with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Yerevan, 25Dec2018
Armenia - Parliament speaker Ara Babloyan (L) meets with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Yerevan, 25Dec2018

The SIS announced the coup inquiry on October 17 two days after seven of the nine Constitutional Court judges dismissed calls for Tovmasian’s dismissal made by the current Armenian parliament loyal to Pashinian. In an appeal to the court, the parliament claimed, among other things, that Tovmasian cannot act impartially because of his past affiliation with the former ruling Republican Party (HHK).

Pashinian similarly 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 countered earlier this month that the current authorities are seeking to oust him in order to gain control over the court and be able to make unconstitutional decisions.

So far the SIS has indicted only one person as part of the probe. It said on Tuesday that Arsen Babayan, the former deputy chief of the parliament staff, backdated Harutiunian’s letter of resignation to enable Tovmasian to become court chairman before the entry into force of sweeping amendments to the Armenian constitution.

The amendments introduced a six-year term in office for the head of Armenia’s highest court. Tovmasian was named to run the court under the previous constitution which allows him to hold the post until the age of 70.

Babayan, who is now an outspoken critic of Pashinian’s government, was arrested on Monday. He denies the coup charges as politically motivated.

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