An Armenian prosecutor has dismissed coup charges brought against former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan and one of his former senior aides by another law-enforcement agency.
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) indicted Babloyan and Arsen Babayan in October as part of a criminal inquiry into Hrayr Tovmasian’s appointment in March 2018 as chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court. Babayan was also arrested but freed on bail three weeks later.
The SIS claimed 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 him. It said that Babayan, who was the deputy chief of the parliament staff at the time, 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, 49, became chief court justice under the previous constitution which allows him to hold the post until the age of 70.
Both suspects strongly deny the accusations. Babloyan maintains that Harutiunian’s letter of resignation was dated March 1, 2018 and that he received and signed it on March 2, 2018, not three days later, as is claimed by the SIS.
The SIS announced on December 13 that it has completed the investigation. It said that it has also asked prosecutors to endorse the accusations of “usurpation of state authority” and forgery leveled against the former officials and thus pave the way for their trial.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Tuesday that a prosecutor dealing with the case has refused to do so and ordered the SIS to conduct an “additional investigation” for properly evaluating Babloyan’s and Babayan’s actions. It gave no other details.
Babloyan hailed the decision, saying that the prosecutors effectively concluded that the accusations are baseless. “The decision first and foremost backs up my statement to the effect that there was no breach [of the law] which had the kind of legal consequences which I am accused of,” the former speaker told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Babloyan, 72, is a prominent pediatric surgeon who headed Armenia’s former parliament controlled by former President Serzh Sarkisian from 2017-2018. He currently runs the country’s largest children’s hospital. He would face between 10 and 15 years in prison if convicted of usurpation of power.
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 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 Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK).
Pashinian similarly charged in July that Tovmasian “privatized” the Constitutional Court with the help of the HHK. Tovmasian countered afterwards 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 Babloyan’s prosecution is part of Pashinian’s efforts to force the high court chief’s resignation. The prime minister and his political allies deny that.