A former Justice Ministry official related to Hrayr Tovmasian was arrested on Thursday as part of criminal proceedings launched against the embattled chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court.
Norayr Panosian was already arrested in late September. Armenia’s Court of Appeals freed him in early November, questioning the credibility of the accusations of abuse of power leveled against him.
Prosecutors altered those accusations and indicted Tovmasian as well late last month, saying that the latter abused his powers when he served as justice minister from 2010-2014. In particular, they alleged that Tovmasian colluded with Panosian to illegally privatize an office in Yerevan. They said that in 2012 he also forced state notaries subordinate to the Justice Ministry to rent other offices de facto belonging to him.
Tovmasian rejected the accusations, saying that they are part of intensifying government efforts to force him to resign as head of the country’s highest court. Also, his lawyers said that Prosecutor-General Davtian had no right to charge him without the consent of most of the eight other members of the Constitutional Court.
The prosecutors have refrained from arresting Tovmasian so far, seeking to imprison Panosian instead. A district court in Yerevan allowed them to do so on Thursday.
Panosian denied the accusations brought against him when he briefly spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service in the court on Wednesday. His lawyer, Tigran Atanesian, said the authorities are prosecuting the ex-official to step up their pressure on Tovmasian.
Atanesian similarly accused the court of acting on government orders when it sanctioned his client’s arrest the following day. “Sadly, our judicial system is in a much more deplorable state than it was under [former Presidents] Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian,” he said.
Heriknaz Tigranian, a parliament deputy from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance, dismissed any parallels between the current and former authorities. “I don’t see any similarities at all,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Both the government and law-enforcement authorities deny political motives behind the high-profile case.
Pashinian implicitly demanded the resignation of Tovmasian and other Constitutional Court members in August. He accused them of maintaining links with Armenia’s former leadership and impeding reforms which he says are aimed at creating a “truly independent judiciary.” His critics say that he is on the contrary seeking to gain control over all Armenian courts.
Tovmasian was indicted on December 27 one day after President Armen Sarkissian signed into law a controversial government bill giving seven Constitutional Court judges financial incentives to resign before the end of their mandate.