A senior former staffer of the Armenian National Assembly facing coup charges has been released from custody pending investigation and trial, an adviser to Armenia’s prosecutor-general said on Tuesday.
Arsen Babayan, who served as deputy chief of staff in the previous parliament, was arrested on October 21. He was accused of involvement in a “usurpation of power” resulting in former Justice Minister and MP Hrayr Tovmasian’s appointment as Constitutional Court chairman in March 2018.
The Special Investigative Service claimed that former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan illegally accepted and announced the resignation of Tovmasian’s predecessor, Gagik Harutiunian, before receiving a relevant letter from the latter. It said Babayan backdated the letter 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, 49, was named to run the court under the previous constitution which allows him to hold the post until the age of 70.
Babloyan was also later indicted in the same probe, but unlike Babayan he was not taken into custody. Both former officials flatly denied the accusations of forgery and “usurpation of power.”
Dozens of supporters of Babayan held a series of protests in front of the court house in the days following his arrest, demanding the release of the former official. They condemned the October 24 court decision sanctioning Babayan’s arrest and the charges leveled against him as politically motivated. Lawyers claimed Babayan’s arrest was aimed at stepping up pressure on Tovmasian in a bid to force him to resign.
In a Facebook post today adviser to Armenia’s prosecutor-general Gor Abrahamian said that based on progress in the probe investigators no longer saw the need for Babayan to remain in custody. He said the decision was made “taking into account the fact that at the current stage of the preliminary investigation planned investigative and other procedural actions in relation to Arsen Babayan have been completed and in these conditions the risk of Babayan’s obstructing the case by illegally influencing other participants of the criminal proceedings has been reduced.”
Abrahamian also said that prominent Armenian human rights campaigner Avetik Ishkhanian and pro-government lawmaker Sisak Gabrielian had presented personal guarantees for the release of Babayan, each making a bail payment of 500,000 drams (over $1,000).