Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian doubled down on his verbal attacks on Hrayr Tovmasian on Monday after the embattled chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court decided to file a defamation lawsuit against him.
Pashinian again lambasted him at a weekend news conference held in the southeastern town of Kapan. In particular, he charged that Tovmasian “offered his services” and cozied up to him following the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” He said he rebuffed those overtures because he did not want to cooperate with “representatives of the corrupt former regime.”
Tovmasian, who has been under strong government pressure to resign in recent months, rejected the claim as untrue and slanderous while challenging Pashinian to come up with “credible evidence” of it.He said will take legal action if Pashinian fails to do that.
The prime minister was quick to promise to provide the kind of evidence that will constitute a “disproportionately strong response” to the chief justice. He went on to post on Facebook a photograph of an expensive pen which he said Tovmasian gifted him at a 2018 meeting in Yerevan of the governing board of a pan-Armenian charity. He portrayed the gift as proof of “the weirdest flattery I’ve ever seen.”
Tovmasian responded through one of his lawyers, Amram Makinian, later on Sunday. “Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian has read Nikol Pashinian’s ‘disproportionate response’ and asked us to prepare the [defamation] lawsuit,” Makinian wrote on Facebook.
Pashinian stepped up his verbal attacks in a live video address broadcast on Facebook the following day. He accused Tovmasian of involvement in what he called a failed “hybrid” plot to overthrow him.
Pashinian also said that law-enforcement authorities’ allegations that Tovmasian illegally became the head of the country’s highest court shortly before the 2018 revolution are “effectively proven and irrefutable.”
The Special Investigative Service (SIS) claimed in October 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 took the form of forgery committed by former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan and one of his top staffers, Arsen Babayan. Both men strongly deny relevant accusations leveled against them.
In late December, a senior prosecutor declined to endorse those accusations, ordering the SIS to conduct an “additional investigation.”
A few days later, Tovmasian was indicted on other, unrelated charges. Prosecutor-General Artur Davtian said that he unlawfully privatized an office in Yerevan and forced state notaries to rent other premises “de facto” belonging to him when he served as Armenia’s justice minister from 2010-2014.
Tovmasian rejects the accusations as baseless, saying that they are part of the Armenian government’s intensifying efforts to force him to resign. SIS officers searched his Yerevan apartment on Friday.
Pashinian effective demanded in August 2019 the resignation of Tovmasian and other Constitutional Court judges who were installed before the “Velvet Revolution.” 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.”
Pashinian’s critics, notably senior members of the former ruling Republican Party, say that he is simply seeking to gain control over all Armenian courts.
Tovmasian was indicted on December 27 one day after President Armen Sarkissian signed into law a government bill giving seven of the nine Constitutional Court judges financial incentives to resign before the end of their mandate. None of those judges has accepted the proposed early retirement so far.
Pashinian strongly defended the controversial law during his four-hour news conference.