Former Deputy Chief of Staff of Armenia’s Parliament released from detention

14 November 2019
Arsen Babayan. Image via Facebook.

On 12 November, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Armenia announced that Arsen Babayan, former Deputy Chief of Staff of Armenia’s National Assembly who had been under arrest since 21 October for fraud and ‘colluding to usurp power’ has been released.

Babayan’s indictment stems from a lawsuit brought by independent MP Arman Babajanyan to the General Prosecutor’s Office on 4 October. 

In the lawsuit, still ongoing,  Babajanyan claims that embattled constitutional court chair Hrayr Tovmasyan colluded with officials from the former ruling Republican Party — of which Tovmasyan was previously a member — to become chair of the Constitutional Court in early 2018.

Babayan has denied the allegations. 

Details of the Case

Gagik Harutyunyan, the chair of the Constitutional Court before Tovmasyan, was legally able to serve until 23 March 2018, the day he turned 70 years old, according to rules established by Armenia’s pre-2015 constitution. 

He wrote a resignation letter and stepped down on 1 March. 

This letter was officially sent from the Constitutional Court to Arsen Babayan’s office on 5 March. 

Ara Babloyan, then chair of the National Assembly, states that he officially announced and signed Harutyunyan’s resignation on 2 March.

Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) claims that Babloyan, in fact, signed the letter after 5 March and that Babayan illegally backdated to the letter to 2 March. 

They allege this was done so that Tovmasyan would be made Chair of the Constitutional Court under old rules which were superseded by a 2015 Constitutional amendment — which would be in force by 9 April.

According to regulations, if the letter had been signed after 5 March, then Tovmasyan could not be appointed Chair at the next session of Parliament, scheduled for 21 March. He could only be appointed at a further session, which would have taken place after 9 April, and would, as a result, be under the new rules of the amended constitution. 

Under the previous rules governing the Constitutional Court, a member can serve until the age of 70. Following the rules established by constitutional amendments in 2015, a member of the Court can serve only one six-year term. 

Tovmasyan became a member of the Constitutional Court on 12 February and was appointed Chair by the National Assembly on 21 March. 

Hrayr Tovmasyan has not been indicted in the case. Former Chair of the National Assembly Ara Babloyan is a suspect and has been prohibited from leaving the country.

[Read more on OC Media: Armenian security service questions family of constitutional court chair]

Ara Babloyan denies any wrong-doing on his part. In an interview with Azatutyun, he stated that he did everything according to the law, and has no knowledge of any illegal collusion or fraud. 

‘I can’t say why Gagik Harutyunyan decided to retire early’, Babloyan said. 

Gagik Harutyunyan has stated that no one forced him to resign.

‘I was appointed a member of the Supreme Judicial Council and immediately decided that it was not appropriate to be a chair of the Constitutional court while being a council member of another institution’, Harutyunyan told Azatutyun.

In an interview with OC Media, Ruben Melikyan, former Deputy Minister of Justice of Armenia and former Human Rights Defender of Nagorno-Karabakh, stated that the indictment itself was questionable. 

‘The facts were not enough to bring a criminal charge against him in the first place’, Melikyan said.

The controversy around the case grew when the court did not allow Babayan family visitation with his wife or two children or to make and receive phone calls. 

While the ban on family visitation was rescinded at a later date, Babayan was prohibited from making and receiving phone calls until his release.

Released

On 24 October, human rights activist and director of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia Avetik Ishkhanyan and Human Rights Defender of Nagorno-Karabagh Artak Beglaryan paid bail and sent personal guarantees to the court in which they expressed their willingness to guarantee Babayan’s proper conduct during the investigation.

On 12 November, member of the ruling My Step parliamentary faction Sisak Gabrielyan also sent a personal guarantee for Babayan, following which the court released Babayan.

The same day, Babayan gave a TV interview to Armnews, in which he again professed his innocence. 

‘I was arrested and let go based on a political decision’, Babayan said. ‘All of this was against Hrayr Tovmasyan. The ruling regime’s haste leaves the impression of “let’s try and see what happens”. This case has no future. This was only to put pressure on Tovmasyan.’

Babayan went on to call the case against him a ‘political fiasco’ that, since it happened to him, could ‘happen to anyone’.

Ruben Melikyan says that the decision to set Babayan free was a way for the ruling regime to save face. ‘We’re glad he’s free’, Melikyan said but added, ‘The issue is no longer outrageous, but it still has not gone away.’ 

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