But Pashinian did not say whether he believes Gagik Jahangirian, the controversial acting head of the country’s Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), should resign.
Ruben Vartazarian, the SJC’s previous chairman, publicized on June 20 a 14-minute audio clip which he secretly recorded during a dinner meeting with Jahangirian in February 2021. The meeting took place two months before Vartazarian was controversially suspended by other SJC members amid rising tensions with Pashinian.
In the recording full of profanities uttered by him, Jahangirian can be heard seemingly warning Vartazarian to resign or face criminal charges.
Jahangirian claimed late last week that he simply tried to trick Vartazarian into resigning as head of the state body that nominates judges and can also dismiss them. He dismissed calls for his resignation voiced by opposition and civil society groups.
Pashinian did not comment on those calls when he was asked about the scandal during a live televised appearance. Instead, he attacked Vartazarian, saying that the recording also raised questions about the former SJC chairman.
“I always say that our biggest problem is the judicial system, that we don’t have real successes here,” Pashinian told Armenian Public Television.
Asked whether the leaked audio scandal has cast a shadow over his declared judicial reforms, Pashinian said: “I think so.” He expressed hope that an Armenian law-enforcement agency will properly investigate the content of the recording and its implications.
The Investigative Committee reportedly interrogated Vartazarian on June 23. But it has still not opened a formal criminal case in connection with Jahangirian’s secretly recorded comments.
Critics say Jahangirian must be not only sacked but also prosecuted for what they see as blackmail and illegal interference in the work of law-enforcement bodies.
The SJC indicated last week that it will not even launch disciplinary proceedings against its embattled head. But one of its members, Davit Khachaturian, announced on Monday that the judicial watchdog has set up a working group that will look into the leaked audio and determine whether it warrants such proceedings.
The SJC formally deposed Vartazarian as its chairman and member on June 23. The official reason for the move was a recent newspaper interview in which he claimed that Jahangirian joined the watchdog in January 2021 in breach of Armenian law.
Vartazarian fell out with Pashinian in late 2020 as the prime minister’s political allies accused him of encouraging Armenian courts to free arrested government critics. Vartazarian denied the accusations. He says that he was indicted and suspended in April 2021 as part of government efforts to replace him with Jahangirian, a former prosecutor widely seen as a figure loyal to Pashinian.
Pashinian’s political opponents dismiss his stated efforts to reform the Armenian judiciary as a smokescreen for increasing government influence on courts. Pashinian and his political allies say the reforms are on the contrary aimed at strengthening judicial independence.