YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—An Armenian law-enforcement agency has brought additional charges of corruption against a senior judge who was arrested two months ago.
State prosecutors said in early June that Aghvan Petrosyan, the chairperson of a court in Armenia’s Gegharkunik province, was paid $23,000 to give a suspended prison sentence to a young man prosecuted for a 2014 violent assault. The lenient sentence was subsequently struck down by the Court of Appeals in Yerevan and sent back to the Gegharkunik court.
The 45-year-old Petrosyan and another judge, Vanik Vardanyan, were also charged in June with accepting $2,500 in exchange for an “illegal verdict” in a property dispute involving Gegharkunik residents. The ruling was handed down by Vardanyan. Both judges were taken into custody.
Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS), which is conducting the corruption probe, now claims that Petrosian was also paid another kickback worth $30,000.
Petrosian’s lawyer, Armen Melkonyan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that his client is denying the bribery charges and refusing to cooperate with SIS investigators. He declined to comment further.
Vardanyan, the other arrested judge, has also denied any wrongdoing. “We believe that the criminal case was opened without legal grounds,” said his lawyer, Ruben Hakobyan.
Hakobyan said that the main piece of evidence in the corruption case is audio of a secretly recorded conversation that took place in Petrosian’s office. He insisted that the recording does not prove the bribery alleged by the SIS.
At least two other Armenian judges have been prosecuted on similar charges recently. One of them, Ishkhan Barseghyan, was allegedly caught red-handed in October while being paid $1,000 by a citizen. Barseghyan, who served in a district court in Yerevan for 20 years, pleaded not guilty when he went on trial in April.
Another judge was charged with taking a $600 bribe in May. He worked in the court of general jurisdiction of the Ararat and Vayots Dzor provinces.
Corruption within Armenia’s judicial system, which has undergone frequent structural changes over the past two decades, is widely believed to be endemic. The country’s former human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasyan, highlighted the problem in a 2013 report that accused judges of routinely taking bribes.
The report, based on confidential interviews with lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, singled out the Court of Cassation, the highest body of criminal justice. Both the court and an Armenian government body monitoring the judiciary denied the allegations.