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Armenia’s Judicial Watchdog Refuses To Censure Embattled Head


Armenia - Gagik Jahangirian chairs a session of the Supreme Judicial Council, Yerevan, July 26, 2021.

A state body overseeing Armenia’s courts has officially refused to take disciplinary action against its acting head, Gagik Jahangirian, over leaked audio in which he appeared to blackmail his predecessor at loggerheads with the government.

Ruben Vartazarian, the former chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), 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 Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

In the recording full of profanities uttered by him, Jahangirian can be heard seemingly warning Vartazarian to step down 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 fire them. He dismissed calls for his resignation and prosecution voiced by opposition and civil society groups.

Immediately after the outbreak of the scandal, the SJC indicated that it will not even consider launching disciplinary proceedings against Jahangirian. But one of its members, Davit Khachaturian, said on Monday that the judicial watchdog has set up a working group that will look into the audio clip and determine whether it warrants such proceedings.

SJC spokeswoman Lilit Shaboyan said on Thursday that the group consisting of five SJC members has concluded that the “edited recording” is not sufficient grounds for punishing Jahangirian. She said the watchdog cannot take any disciplinary action also because of a statute of limitations.

The SJC launched disciplinary proceedings against Vartazarian before ousting him 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 judicial body in January 2021 in breach of Armenian law.

Jahangirian was appointed by the Armenian parliament controlled by Pashinian’s party. Ever since Jahangirian took over the SJC in April 2021, Armenian courts have rarely rejected arrest warrants sought by law-enforcement authorities for opposition figures prosecuted on various charges rejected by them as politically motivated.

Independent and pro-opposition media outlets have regularly accused Jahangirian of pressuring judges to make such decisions. He denies that.

Pashinian admitted on Monday that a scandal sparked by the leaked audio has undermined the credibility of judicial reforms declared by his administration. But he did not say whether he believes Jahangirian should resign.

Pashinian’s political opponents have said all along that the stated reforms are a smokescreen for increasing government influence on courts.

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