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Kocharian Fixed Court Ruling Against Ter-Petrossian: Constitutional Court Justice to US Officials

In yet another US cable (this one dated Mar. 7, 2008) released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks on Aug. 30, 2011, then US Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) to Armenia Joseph Pennington notes embassy officials were approached by Valery Poghossian (pictured), one of Armenia’s nine Constitutional Court justices, on Mar. 6, 2008, for a secret meeting in which he declared that then president of Armenia Robert Kocharian fixed the court’s upcoming Mar. 8 decision to decide against the complaint by ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian (LTP) alleging vote fraud in the disputed February 19 presidential election.

“Poghossian said he personally had been pressured by the Presidency, and alleged some of his colleagues had as well. The justice said ‘absolute tyranny’ now prevailed in Armenia, and fretted the fixed decision could have ‘unpredictable consequences’ for the country.  He warned that if the international community allowed the authorities off the hook after the fixed decision, it would do irreversible damage to Armenia, and doom any fading hopes the country still has for democracy,” Pennington wrote.

Poghossian approached US embassy staff and, according to the cable, alleged that Kocharian fixed the upcoming Mar. 8 decision of the Constitutional Court that will rule against LTP’s election result complaint.

“Late on Mar. 4, on the eve of the court’s hearing of LTP’s complaint, Poghossian said he was contacted by phone and summoned to the Presidency by someone speaking on behalf of the president’s chief of staff. Initially taken back by the call, he said he laughed at the caller before refusing the summoning.  He then ignored repeated calls placed to his office that evening.

“Poghossian alleged that at least three of his colleagues answered similar summons to the presidency earlier on Mar. 4, though he cannot prove it. He said he obtained this information from reliable sources who saw the justices inside presidential offices that day. He also told Emboffs [embassy officials] that the presidency threatened to fire his brother who works there if he could not convince Poghossian to answer the summoning. Poghossian, who has been absent from the court’s hearing of the complaint the last three days, and as a result cannot participate in the final decision, said illness prevented him from being present. But he confided that even if he were healthy, he would not appear at the hearings.

“When Poghossian said he raised the issue of presidential pressure with his justice colleagues, his concerns were ‘rejected.’  He also alleged that one of the judges, Justice Kim Balayan, has been co-opted by the authorities via the recent appointment of his son Tigran Balayan as the new spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Note: The former spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, was fired with five other diplomats in late February after publicly criticizing the authorities’ handling of the election. End note.)  Poghossian said his stance on the case, and absence from the hearing, could have personal consequences for him after the hearing, though he did not specify what those were. He confided, however, that he had ‘grounds to be scared.’  He also noted that if not for the pressure they were being subjected to, almost all of the justices would decide in LTP’s favor.

“Poghossian averred that the court’s fixed decision could be ‘catalytic’ in escalating existing tensions and fomenting new violence. He said ‘absolute tyranny’ now prevailed in Armenia, where it was impossible to solve issues by legal means. He said the current ‘moral and psychological’ atmosphere created by the ruling regime, in addition to the declaration of the state of emergency and its very harsh restrictions, placed the Constitutional Court under great pressure to hew the directives of the authorities.


“Despite the climate of fear the authorities seek to create, Poghossian said it was conceivable that LTP could attract hundreds of thousands of supporters in the street after the lifting of the state of emergency. In this case, Poghossian said he did not rule out a scenario where the authorities would extend, or reimpose emergency control if they felt their grip on power was being challenged. He also said the authorities were brazen enough to follow through on their threat to arrest LTP, even though they had no legal right to do so. But ‘they can do anything they want to’ lamented Poghossian.


“During the meeting, Poghossian shared that at various points in the 1990s he headed the KGB and national police in Armenia. Emboffs proceeded to quiz him on post-violence reports of unreported dead, and allegations that army units from Nagorno-Karabakh were brought in to quell the violence. He said information made available to him ‘by virtue of who I used to be’ suggests the reports are not entirely baseless.

“He said he had information that the death toll had been reduced by the authorities, and that some families had been forced to sign fabricated death certificates before they were allowed to recover relatives’ remains. He said he ruled nothing out, given the nature of the regime,” reads the cable.

In his commentary at the end of the cable, Pennington writes:

“We have no way of confirming Justice Poghossian’s allegations, but the fact that one of Armenia’s highest-ranking public servants reached out the way he did is revealing in itself. Poghossian was appointed Justice during the LTP administration, and while he didn’t hide his political sympathies, it’s possible that recent political events have jaundiced his views. That said, his apprehension appeared bona fide, and Emboffs had the sense he was acting out of a feeling of patriotism for his country.”