Law-enforcement authorities brought coup charges against former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan on Monday as part of their investigation into Hrayr Tovmasian’s appointment in March 2018 as chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court.
Babloyan was not arrested by the Special Investigative Service (SIS), unlike a former senior parliament staffer who was also charged with forgery and “usurpation of power” last week. He strongly denied the accusations.
“I stated that the accusations are illegal and that everything I did was in accordance with the constitution and laws,” the 72-year-old pediatric surgeon running Armenia’s largest children’s hospital told reporters outside the SIS headquarters in Yerevan.
The SIS alleged last week that the former Armenian parliament elected Tovmasian court chairman as a result of an illegal seizure of the judicial authority by a “group of officials.” It said that Babloyan illegally accepted and announced the resignation of Tovmasian’s predecessor, Gagik Harutiunian, before receiving a relevant letter from the latter. It said that Arsen Babayan, the arrested staffer, backdated the letter to enable Tovmasian to head the Constitutional Court 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 became chief court justice under the previous constitution which allows him to hold the post until the age of 70.
In a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Babloyan insisted that Harutiunian’s letter of resignation was dated March 1, 2018 and that he received and signed it on March 2, 2015, not three days later, as is claimed by the SIS.
“Gagik Harutiunian signed his resignation on March 1 and that document was on my desk on March 2,” Babloyan said, adding that Constitutional Court and parliament seals on the document prove that.
The former Constitutional Court chairman insisted that his resignation was voluntary and in conformity with Armenian law when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service last week.
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 Prime Minister Nikol 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. Tovmasian countered early this month that the authorities are seeking to oust him in order to gain control over Armenia’s highest court.
Critics, notably senior HHK figures, say that Babayan’s arrest and other criminal proceedings targeting Tovmasian are part of Pashinian’s efforts to force the high court chief’s resignation. The prime minister and his political allies deny this.
Vahagn Hovakimian, a senior lawmaker from Pashinian’s My Step alliance, on Monday also accused Babloyan of committing serious procedural violations during the announcement of Gagik Harutiunian’s resignation. He said that the former speaker illegally followed a legal clause which he believes came into force in April 2018.
Babloyan and his lawyer, Aram Vartevanian, dismissed Hovakimian’s claims.