Constitutional Court Head Hrayr Tovmasyan has said he is planning to sue Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, after the Prime Minister claimed that he had ‘offered his services’ in return for maintaining his seat as chair of the Court.
Pashinyan made the claims during a press conference in the southern Armenian city of Kapan on 24 January.
Pashinyan has sought to remove Tovmasyan from his position, claiming that Tovmasyan’s ties with Armenia’s pre-revolution administration discredit him from impartially carrying out his responsibilities as head of the highest court in the country.
Pashinyan also claims that Tovmasyan moved into his current position by fraudulent means. At the moment, there is an impending criminal case against the former Chair of the National Assembly Ara Babloyan and the former Parliamentary Deputy Chief of Staff Arsen Babayan for colluding with Tovmasyan to help secure that position in March 2018.
‘As a result of this official forgery, the Constitutional Court has been occupied by one individual and one group,’ Pashinyan said. ‘And this group is the former corrupt regime of Armenia.’
In October 2019, the National Assembly passed a decision to strip Tovmasyan from his powers as head of the court. However, the final decision was up to the Constitutional Court itself, which rejected the decision.
Currently, Tovmasyan is being investigated for abuse of power during his tenure as Minister of Justice. On 24 January, his home was searched by the Special Investigative Services (SIS).
Pashinyan finally claimed that Tovmasyan had ‘offered his services,’ as the author of the new constitution passed in 2015, and that he could help Pashinyan find all the loopholes within it. Pashinyan also said that since he became Prime Minister in May 2018, Tovmasyan had been constantly trying to arrange a meeting between the two of them.
‘He was [rejected], because I never did, nor do I, nor will I ever want to collaborate with representatives of the corrupt former regime’, Pashinyan said.
Tovmasyan responded to these allegations through his lawyer Amram Makinyan, and denied Pashinyan’s claims.
Tovmasyan said that he had had only two telephone conversations with Pashinyan since he was elected as Prime Minister. He also presented a deadline for the Prime Minister: prove his claims in 20 days, or he would take him to court for slander.
In response, on 26 January Pashinyan posted a lengthy Facebook post along with a picture of a black Karloff pen. In his post, Pashinyan explained that he was ‘forcefully’ gifted this ‘elite’ pen, and that thereafter requests from Tovmasyan to meet became more frequent.
[See the video of Tovmasyan giving Pashinyan the pen here.]
‘When [Vanetsyan, the former head of the NSS] told me that Hrayr says that he wrote the constitution, why don’t we want to use his expertise, I responded by proposing that he go somewhere far away’, Pashinyan said.
Later that same day, the head of the country’s advisory Public Council, Styopa Safaryan, shared a post by a Facebook user claiming that the pen was worth €530 ($580).
In another post, Pashinyan wrote that he was ‘shocked’ at discovering the price of the pen.
‘In a country where traditions of clan-like government exist, this is an important nuance’, Pashinyan wrote. ‘What is this if not an offer of one’s services in return for keeping his position?’
Hrayr Tovmasyan’s sister Angela Tovmasyan wrote a Facebook post of her own, in which she said that the pen was specifically a Karloff Paris Voyageur, and was, in actuality worth $166.
Tovmasyan’s lawyer Amram Makinyan announced shortly thereafter that Tovmasyan had read Pashinyan’s post and had asked his legal team to prepare to file a lawsuit.
Pashinyan went live on Facebook on 27 January to further discuss the situation.
‘Today, former members of the Republican Party are going from country to country, from one international organization to another to claim that Armenia’s ruling authorities are persecuting Tovmasyan and are personally trying to vindicate him,’ Pashinyan said. ‘By making these claims they are trying to tarnish Armenia’s democratic image as a country of law.’
He went on to explain that after the revolution in 2018 his government had decided not to demand Tovmasyan’s resignation because they wanted an institutional approach to the issues they faced.
‘[We had decided] that if there was an official who was elected more or less legally then we weren’t going to be guided by personal preferences, but by state logic’, Pashinyan said.
However, according to Pashinyan, when he was informed by lawyers that Tovmasyan was appointed through forgery, it didn’t matter how much loyalty Tovmasyan was ready to provide.
‘Considering the path I have crossed, I have promised myself that I will not bend to unprincipled compromises or unprincipled games’, Pashinyan said.
In the midst of the back and forth of claims and counterclaims, on January 26, member of the My Step faction at the Yerevan City Council Henrik Hartenyan, shared a Facebook story with a screenshot of a Facebook account allegedly belonging to Sarah Tovmasyan, Hrayr’s Tovmasyan’s daughter, which he captioned: ‘This is Tovmasyan’s daughter, dear people, let’s see what you can do.’
The post was taken down after a wave of online condemnation. The user also turned out not to be Hrayr Tovmasyan’s daughter.
The next day on January 27, the My Step Party announced that they condemn the act. ‘Hartenyan’s Facebook announcement contradicts the values and principles adopted by the party,’ the announcement read.
The party then held an extraordinary emergency session, following which it was announced that Hartenyan was to resign from his position.