A retired senior judge appears to have fled Armenia at the weekend immediately after being charged with bribery.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General claimed on Friday that Samvel Uzunian demanded and received a total of $51,000 in bribes from other individuals in return for ensuring favorable court verdicts for them in 2007 and 2014. He was the chairman of a district court in Yerevan at the time.
Armenia’s Supreme Judicial Council was quick to allow the law-enforcement body to press charges against Uzunian and seek court permission for his pre-trial arrest. A spokesman for the prosecutors, Gor Abrahamian, said Uzunian, who retired in 2018, flew to Moscow “presumably” shortly before a Yerevan court granted the permission on Saturday.
“We don’t know whether that individual is at the moment,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday.
Abrahamian also said that the prosecutors have ordered an inquiry into the “circumstances” of Uzunian’s departure. He did not exclude that some officials helped the 65-year-old former flee Armenia.
A spokeswoman for the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement agency subordinate to the prosecutors, stressed in this regard that the authorities were not allowed to stop Uzunian from leaving the country before the arrest warrant issued by the court.
The Armenian police said, meanwhile, that a suitcase belonging to Uzunian was found at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport after his departure. Security personnel searched the suitcase and found a cartridge in it, said a police statement. It did not explain why or how he left the country without his luggage.
Uzunian, 65, is best known as the judge who presided over the marathon trial of five gunmen who launched a deadly attack on the Armenian parliament in October 1999. They all were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Corruption among Armenian judges has long been a serious problem. Several judges have been arrested and prosecuted for bribery in recent years.
The current Armenian authorities have pledged to address the problem through a “verification of the integrity” of all judges which will be carried out by the newly formed Commission on Preventing Corruption. The commission will scrutinize their assets and income declarations. It is empowered to launch disciplinary proceedings against judges suspected of having dubiously acquired assets.