Also, Gagik Jahangirian again denied allegations that he is pressuring courts to allow arrests of opposition members and make other decisions sought by the Armenian government.
Jahangirian, who is widely regarded as a figure loyal to the government, was installed by Armenia’s former parliament as a member of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) in January. The supposedly independent body nominates judges, monitors their integrity and can also dismiss judges.
In April, the SJC chairman, Ruben Vartazarian, was controversially suspended and charged with obstruction of justice after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s political allies accused him of encouraging courts to free arrested government critics.
Vartazarian denies the accusations. He has said the authorities ordered the criminal proceedings to replace him with Jahangirian. The latter was named as acting head of the SJC pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
In recent months Armenian courts have approved virtually all arrest warrants issued by law-enforcement authorities for opposition figures prosecuted on various charges rejected by them as politically motivated. Three of those oppositionists were arrested after being elected to the current parliament in June.
Jahangirian faced tough questions opposition lawmakers on Tuesday as he appeared before the National Assembly to present the SJC’s candidates for a vacant seat in Armenia’s Court of Cassation. They accused him of pressuring and intimidating judges. He denied that.
Aregnaz Manukian, a deputy from the main opposition Hayastan bloc, also grilled Jahangirian about the origin of his family’s expensive properties. She specifically challenged him to explain how he had managed to build a villa in one of Yerevan’s richest neighborhoods while working as a senior prosecutor earning a relatively modest salary.
Jahangirian said the villa currently rented by the Iraqi Embassy in Armenia is “very modest” compared to surrounding mansions. “May the Iraqi Embassy staff forgive me for working in such bad conditions,” he said.
Jahangirian claimed that he built the villa with proceeds from the sale of another house where he and his family lived until 2003. He said he had built that three-story house in the center of Yerevan after selling in 1989 the family’s 3-bedroom apartment located in a city suburb.
Manukian was unconvinced. “You are one of the lucky few to have managed to sell a 3-bedroom apartment and build a huge house in the famous Yerevan neighborhood,” she said with sarcasm.
Jahangirian also appeared to confirm the opposition lawmaker’s claim that his son acquired a luxury apartment in downtown Yerevan, worth over $600,000, after he took over the SJC in April. But he linked the acquisition to the fact that that the latter is married to a daughter of Khachatur Sukiasian, a wealthy businessman and parliamentarian representing Pashinian’s Civil Contract party.
“That apartment block was built by a brother of my in-law Khachatur Sukiasian,” he said. “So they [the Sukiasian brothers] either gave or did not give that money. I have no idea. Ask them.”
Jahangirian announced in early August that the judicial watchdog has drafted legislation aimed at “purging” courts of “people who have committed crimes against justice.” The 66-year-old official himself was accused by civic groups of covering up crimes and committing human rights abuses when he served as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor from 1997-2006.