Armenia’s Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s refusal to release Robert Kocharian from jail pending the outcome of the ongoing trial of the former president and three other former officials.
Kocharian, who is facing coup and corruption charges strongly denied by him, was again denied bail on November 7. His lawyers appealed against the decision made by the district court judge presiding over the high-profile trial.
Hearings on the appeal were initially held by Mkhitar Papoyan, a Court of Appeals judge. He agreed to recuse himself from the case after prosecutors cited media allegations that he had a hand in another district court judge’s decision in May to free Kocharian and suspend his trial.Papoyan rejected those allegations as slanderous.
Lusine Abgarian, another Court of Appeals judge who took over the case from Papoyan, faced objections from Kocharian’s lawyers who questioned her impartiality. They argued that her brother “liked” last year a Facebook post by Armenian-American musician Serj Tankian welcoming Kocharian’s arrest. Abgarian dismissed the objections.
On Thursday, the Armenian police alleged that a supporter of Kocharian has offered a man injured during the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan to retract his testimony, which could be used against the ex-president, in return for cash. The police released a video of their secretly filmed conversation which they said corroborates the allegation.
The Kocharian supporter, Varuzhan Mkrtchian, insisted on Friday that he on the contrary urged the man to stick to his pre-trial testimony and repeat it in the court. Mkrtchian said the man himself visited him and complained of pressure from investigators several months ago.
Mkrtchian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service he never discussed or coordinated his actions with Kocharian’s family, lawyers or close associates.
Kocharian’s spokesman, Victor Soghomonian, dismissed the police video as a “poorly done show” aimed at putting pressure on the Court of Appeals.
The video was circulated several hours after the release of a joint appeal by several dozen Armenian singers, other artists and media personalities calling for Kocharian’s release from custody.
A similar statement was also issued on Thursday by about a dozen ethnic Armenian public figures from Russia loyal to the Kremlin. They included Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Russia Today broadcaster, and film director Karen Shakhnazarov. The signatories denounced Kocharian’s continuing imprisonment as “inhuman.”
Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, has accused the current authorities of waging a “political vendetta” against him. The authorities deny political motives behind his prosecution.