Top Law-Enforcement Official Resigns

Armenia - Aghvan Hovsepian, head of the Investigative Committee, arrives for a meeting in Yerevan, 10 December 2014.

Aghvan Hovsepian, one of Armenia’s most powerful and controversial law-enforcement officials, resigned on Monday one month after the dramatic change of the country’s government.

Hovsepian, 65, has headed the Investigative Committee ever since its establishment in 2014. The law-enforcement agency comprises former police and Defense Ministry divisions conducting criminal investigations.

Hovsepian announced his resignation at a meeting with Investigative Committee officials. An official statement on the meeting did not quote him as giving any reason for his decision.

“I want to thank all those with whom I have worked in the law-enforcement system for 45 years,” he was reported to tell his subordinates. “I want to thank you. We have worked together for nearly four years.”

Hovsepian defended his track record, claiming that the Investigative Committee has become an independent body legally protected against undue influence from the government, prosecutors, courts and other state bodies. He expressed hope that his successor will maintain this “independence.”

Hovsepian also urged investigators to steer clear of “politics.” “But this doesn’t mean that you should stay away from public life,” he said.

The head of another Armenian law-enforcement agency, the Special Investigative Service (SIS), likewise stepped down on June 6. Vahram Shahinian cited the “existing circumstances” in a letter of resignation submitted to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The SIS is primarily tasked with prosecuting state officials accused of abuse of power.

Also resigning last week was Arman Mkrtumian, head of the Court of Cassation, Armenia’s highest body of criminal and civil justice. Lawyers had for years accused him of restricting judicial independence.

Mkrtumian and Hovsepian were widely regarded as key pillars of the former ruling regime swept from power by a wave of mass protests led by Pashinian.

Hovsepian served as Armenia’s prosecutor-general from 1998-1999 and 2004-2013. He was appointed in 2014 to run the newly created Investigative Committee by then President Serzh Sarkisian.

Throughout his long tenure Hovsepian was dogged by allegations of serious human rights violations voiced by opposition and civic groups. As chief prosecutor, he also played a key role in government crackdowns on the opposition, notably the deadly suppression of 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan. Dozens of opposition members, including Pashinian, were jailed on controversial charges at the time.