The Special Investigative Service (SIS) will interrogate Hrayr Tovmasian, the embattled chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, on Friday two months after another law-enforcement agency recommended criminal charges against him.
“An SIS investigator will come to the Constitutional Court,” Tovmasian’s lawyer, Amram Makinian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday.
Makinian said he is not yet aware of the reasons for the unprecedented interrogation. He suggested that his client, who has been under strong government pressure to resign, will be questioned as a witness.
In late October, Armenia’s Investigative Committee claimed to have collected sufficient evidence that Tovmasian abused his powers when he served as justice minister from 2010-2013. It said that he colluded with a former senior Justice Ministry official, Norayr Panosian, and officials from Yerevan’s municipal administration to effectively privatize an office in the city center.
The Investigative Committee sent the case to the SIS for further investigation. Tovmasian’s legal team categorically rejected the committee’s allegations at the time, calling them “yet another example of illegal pressure exerted on the Constitutional Court chairman in recent months.”
Panosian, who also denies any wrongdoing, was arrested in late September. Armenia’s Court of Appeals freed him on November 6, questioning the credibility of the accusations leveled against the former official.
It emerged earlier on Thursday that the SIS has altered the accusations and requested another court’s permission to arrest Panosian again. Panosian’s lawyer, Tigran Atanesian, decried the move. He said the authorities are seeking an “additional lever to force Hrayr Tovmasian to resign” as head of the country’s highest court.
The authorities have repeatedly accused Tovmasian of breaking laws and of maintaining ties to the country’s former government toppled in last year’s “Velvet Revolution.” The Armenian parliament dominated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s allies demanded his ouster in an October 4 resolution.
The Constitutional Court rejected the demanded on October 15 before law-enforcement authorities launched a series of criminal proceedings against Tovmasian. In particular, the SIS effectively declared illegal Tovmasian’s appointment as court chairman in March 2018 by the country’s former parliament. Tovmasian was a senior member of that parliament loyal to ex-President Serzh Sarkisian.
The Investigative Committee recommended Tovmasian’s indictment a few days later. Just hours after that move, the head of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, expressed serious concern over what he described as the Armenian government’s “open conflict” with the Constitutional Court.
“I call on all sides to exercise restraint, mutual respect and constructive institutional cooperation in order to de-escalate this worrying situation and re-establish the normal operation of the constitution of Armenia,” Buquicchio said in an October 29 statement.