Gagik Jahangirian resigned as acting chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) in July amid uproar caused by a secretly recorded audio of his February 2021 conversation with Ruben Vartazarian, who headed the powerful body at the time.
Vartazarian fell out with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in late 2020 as he was accused of encouraging Armenian courts to free arrested opposition figures.
In the 14-minute recording full of profanities uttered by him, Jahangirian can be heard warning Vartazarian to resign or face criminal charges. The latter was indicted and suspended as SJC chairman in April 2021. Jahangirian replaced him as a result.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal case shortly after Vartazarian publicized the audio in June. Jahangirian told investigators and media that he simply tried to trick, rather than blackmail, Vartazarian into resigning as head of the state body that nominates judges and can also dismiss them.
The committee announced on Thursday that it found no evidence that Jahangirian obstructed justice or committed other crimes. It said Armenian prosecutors overseeing the inquiry agreed to formally close the case.
Vartazarian condemned the decisions as “disgraceful and illegal.” He insisted that he was prosecuted because of refusing to succumb to Jahangirian’s threats.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, the former top judicial officer claimed that Artur Davtian, who served as Armenia’s prosecutor-general until September, also urged him to resign and “free both you and us from trouble” in March 2021. Davtian was not even questioned during the inquiry sparked by the scandalous recording, he said.
The former chief prosecutor could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Opposition leaders have portrayed the recording as further proof of their claims that Western-backed “judicial reforms” declared by Pashinian’s administration are in fact aimed at increasing government influence on Armenian courts. At the height of the scandal, the main opposition Hayastan alliance challenged the U.S. and European Union ambassadors in Yerevan to say whether they still support the stated reforms.
Pashinian admitted later in June that the scandal has cast a shadow over his handling of the judiciary.
In October, his former justice minister, Karen Andreasian, was installed as new chairman of the SJC. A member of the judicial watchdog stepped down a few days later, saying that it can no longer protect judicial independence in the country.
After Jahangirian took over the SJC in April 2021, Armenian courts 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 regularly accused Jahangirian of pressuring judges to make such decisions. He denied that.
Jahangirian stated last year that Armenian courts must be purged of “people who have committed crimes against justice.” The 67-year-old himself had been accused of grave human rights abuses when serving as Armenia’s chief military prosecutor from 1997-2006.