Seda Safarian was one of the two new justices nominated by the Armenian government and confirmed by the National Assembly in September. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s administration thus all but completed a purge of the Constitutional Court that began in 2020 with constitutional changes condemned by the Armenian opposition as illegal. Opposition lawmakers regard the new court members as government loyalists.
Safarian, who has been known for her strong criticism of Armenia’s former governments, confirmed on Friday that she had her husband, Seyran Kyureghian, appointed as her driver right after she took the bench in December.
Safarian refused to explain why she did not want other drivers who already worked at the Constitutional Court. She insisted that she did not break any laws.
Critics regard the job given to Kyureghian as nepotism that could undermine public trust in the country’s highest court.
“I will look at that only from the moral standpoint,” said Arsen Babayan, a lawyer and opposition activist. “If someone brings with them their family member so that he gets paid from the state budget … you can expect anything from such a person.”
Armen Khudaverdian, a public administration expert at the Armenian branch of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, similarly argued that while the driver married to the judge can hardly influence court rulings the very fact of his employment is questionable for ethical reasons.
“This is controversial in terms of the rules of ethical behavior and the Constitutional Court’s reputation,” said Khudaverdian.
Safarian is also facing other, more serious allegations that surfaced in Armenian media last month. It emerged that on at least one occasion she represented a private client in a court after the parliament elected her as a justice.
In a recent media interview, Safarian downplayed this “minor issue,” arguing that she did so in November before formally joining the Constitutional Court. Babayan dismissed this explanation, saying that she illegally abused her new status for personal gain.
“She was well aware that the judge in the courtroom where she represented that person knows who he is dealing with and that any case could eventually reach the Constitutional Court,” said Babayan. “This is not only a conflict of interest but also obstruction of justice.”
In a series of reports, the news website 168.am said that Safarian also represented another client in the Court of Appeals as recently as on December 28. The pro-opposition publication posted a copy of an appeal to the court which she purportedly signed that day.
The Constitutional Court’s press office said on Friday that Safarian informed fellow justices about her controversial private practice on January 10. It did not clarify whether any of those judges tried to initiate disciplinary action against her.