Jhangiryan resigns from top judicial body amid recording scandal

By Mark Dovich

Gagik Jhangiryan, the acting head of Armenia’s Supreme Judicial Council, has resigned “due to health problems,” a judiciary spokesperson announced Friday. No other information was made immediately available.

Council members this week declined to bring disciplinary charges against Jhangiryan for alleged wrongdoing revealed in a recording released two weeks ago that has caused a major scandal in Armenia.

A week earlier, Ruben Vardazaryan, the former head of the council, was formally dismissed from his position, just days after he released the recording, which appears to show Jhangiryan, at the time a council member, threatening him with criminal charges if he refused to resign.

Several months after the recording was allegedly made, the Supreme Judicial Council moved to suspend Vardazaryan and transfer his powers to Jhangiryan, who became the council’s acting head. Vardazaryan technically retained his post until his formal dismissal last week, even though his powers had already been taken away in effect.

The Supreme Judicial Council is a powerful body with broad oversight of Armenia’s judicial system, including the power to nominate and dismiss most judges.

Vardazaryan, who took up his role at the Supreme Judicial Council under former President Serzh Sargsyan, has rejected his dismissal as politically motivated, claiming the government dislodged him from his position in an effort to consolidate control over the judicial system.

Jhangiryan, who has not denied the recording’s authenticity and had previously rebuffed calls for his resignation, is seen as a close ally of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Since coming to power, Pashinyan has engaged in a number of highly public feuds with judges appointed by the authorities in charge before him.

The opposition has repeatedly spoken out in recent years against what it sees as moves by Pashinyan to pressure judges and stack the system with government-friendly appointees. The Jhangiryan scandal is just the latest such case, they say.

Pashinyan, meanwhile, says he is simply trying to clean up the courts, widely considered to be among Armenia’s most corrupt institutions. His government has repeatedly paid lip service to the idea of enacting judicial reforms, but in reality has done little to improve the judicial system.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee is looking into the recording.