Hrayr Tovmasian, the embattled chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, held a video conference with the head of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission on Wednesday three weeks after being indicted by Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
In a statement, the court said Tovmasian discussed “in detail” with the commission president, Gianni Buquicchio, and other officials from the Strasbourg-based watchdog recent “events that unfolded around the Constitutional Court.” It gave no details.
Tovmasian was charged with two counts of abuse of power late last month. Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian said he unlawfully privatized an office in Yerevan and forced state notaries to rent other premises de facto belonging to him when he served as justice minister from 2010-2014.
Tovmasian rejected the accusations as politically motivated. He claimed that the Armenian government warned him this summer that he will be prosecuted if he refuses to step down.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee recommended the charges in late October. Just hours later, Buquicchio issued a statement expressing 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,” said Buquicchio.
The Armenian authorities have repeatedly accused Tovmasian of breaking laws and maintaining ties to the country’s former leadership toppled in the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” The parliament dominated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s allies demanded his ouster in a September resolution. The Constitutional Court rejected the demand on October 15.
The authorities also make no secret of their desire to replace six other judges of the 9-member court, who were also installed by the former Armenian governments. In early December the National Assembly passed a government bill offering them financial incentives to resign before the end of their mandate. None of the judges has accepted the lucrative early retirement so far.