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Armenia’s Top Judicial Officer Resigns Amid Scandal


Armenia - Gagik Jahangirian, the acting head of the Supreme Judicial Council, speaks in the National Assembly, September 14, 2021.

Gagik Jahangirian, the controversial acting head of Armenia’s judicial watchdog, resigned on Friday amid a continuing scandal sparked by leaked audio of his conversation with his ousted predecessor.

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 February 2021 meeting with Jahangirian. The meeting took place two months before Vartazarian was controversially suspended as SJC chairman amid rising tensions with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

The recording suggests Jahangirian warned Vartazarian that he will face criminal charges unless he resigns as head of the powerful body that nominates judges and can also fire them.

Opposition leaders and civil society members seized upon the recording to demand Jahangirian’s sacking and even prosecution. Jahangirian dismissed those demands on June 23.

“I have never been forced by any political force, alliance to tender resignation,” the former prosecutor told state television. He claimed that he did not blackmail Vartazarian and simply used “psychological ploys” to engineer the latter’s resignation.

The SJC officially refused to censure Jahangirian as recently as on Thursday. It said the “edited recording” is not sufficient grounds for launching disciplinary proceedings against him. It also cited a statute of limitations applying to misconduct by judges or other judicial officers.

SJC spokeswoman Lilit Shaboyan said that Jahangirian decided to resign because of “health problems.” She did not elaborate.

The 67-year-old reportedly underwent non-urgent surgery in a Yerevan clinic earlier this week.

Pashinian admitted on Monday that the scandal has undermined the credibility of judicial reforms declared by his administration. But he did not say whether he believes Jahangirian should step down.

The stated goal of those reforms is to strengthen the rule of law and judicial independence. Pashinian’s political opponents say that they are on the contrary aimed at increasing government influence on courts.

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 has denied that.

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