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Armenian High Court Chief At Risk Of Prosecution


Armenia -- Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian (C) reads out a ruling on an appeal lodged by former President Robert Kocharian, Yerevan, September 4, 2019.

Lawyers for Hrayr Tovmasian accused Armenia’s political leadership on Tuesday of putting “illegal pressure” on the embattled chairman of the Constitutional Court after a law-enforcement agency recommended criminal charges against him.

The Investigative Committee claimed to have collected sufficient evidence that Tovmasian abused his powers when he served justice minister from 2010-2013. It said that he colluded with a former senior Justice Ministry official, who was arrested recently, and officials from Yerevan’s municipal administration to effectively privatize an office in the city center.

The committee stopped short of indicting Tovmasian. It announced instead that it has sent the case to another law-enforcement body, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), for further investigation.

The announcement marks the latest in a series of criminal proceedings launched against Tovmasian following the Constitutional Court’s refusal on October 15 to oust him. The high court chairman is under growing pressure from the current Armenian authorities accusing him of maintaining ties to the country’s former government toppled in last year’s “Velvet Revolution.”

In a written statement, Tovmasian’s legal team categorically rejected the Investigative Committee’s allegations, saying that he has never had any “direct or indirect connection” to the property in question or been in a position to influence its privatization. It described the allegations as “yet another example of illegal pressure exerted on the chairman of the Constitutional Court in recent months.”

The statement also alleged “blatant violations” of the due process in “the proceedings against Hrayr Tovmasian guided by the political authorities.”

The SIS and the National Security Service (NSS) announced on October 17 other criminal investigations related Tovmasian. Five days later, the SIS effectively declared illegal his appointment as court chairman in March 2018, saying that it was part of a “usurpation of power” by former state officials. One of them, former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan, was indicted on Monday.

Armenia -- Supporters of Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian protest outside the National Security Service headquarters in Yerevan, October 18, 2019.
Armenia -- Supporters of Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian protest outside the National Security Service headquarters in Yerevan, October 18, 2019.

Like the Investigative Committee, the NSS is also scrutinizing Tovmasian’s past activities as justice minister. The former Armenian branch of the Soviet KGB said late on Monday that it has detected financial abuses committed in 2011-2015 by “a number of high-ranking officials of the Justice Ministry.” It did not mention Tovmasian by name.

The NSS raised eyebrows last week by questions his 75-year-old father and two young daughters. It denied opposition claims that the authorities are targeting Tovmasian’s relatives as part of their efforts to force him to resign.

Tovmasian again rejected government calls for his resignation on October 24. In a newspaper interview, he also warned that the authorities will violate the Armenian constitution if they arrest him without the consent of most other Constitutional Court judges.

Critics, among them representatives of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia, say that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian is seeking to purge the Constitutional Court in order to gain unlimited power. Pashinian and his political allies deny this. The prime minister has repeatedly pledged to establish a “truly independent” judiciary in Armenia.

Alen Simonian, a senior member of Pashinian’s My Step bloc, declined on Tuesday to comment on the opposition claims. Simonian said he does not want to give the critics more ammunition to allege government interference in the “legal process.”

Gevorg Petrosian, a senior lawmaker representing the main opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), said the criminal cases against Tovmasian smack of political persecution ordered by the government.

“If Hrayr Tovmasian is a criminal let him be punished … But one gets the impression that the authorities want to unseat Hrayr Tovmasian at all costs,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

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