Pashinian Questioned Over Leaked Phone Calls

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A law-enforcement body interrogated Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Wednesday as part of its criminal investigations into his and other officials’ leaked phone conversations that caused an uproar in Armenia in 2018.

In one of those conversations secretly recorded in July 2018 and posted on the Internet two months later, then National Security Service Director Artur Vanetsian spoke to Sasun Khachatrian, the head of the Special Investigative Service (SIS). Vanetsian could be heard saying that he pressured a judge to sanction the arrest of former President Robert Kocharian prosecuted by the SIS on coup charges.

Vanetsian at the same time urged the SIS not to arrest Yuri Khachaturov, the then secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), warning of a negative reaction from Russia. He noted that Pashinian wants investigators to “lock up” Khachaturov.

Vanetsian also argued against Khachaturov’s arrest in a series of wiretapped phone calls with Pashinian which were publicized in December 2018. The two men also seemed to discuss the fate of Kocharian just hours before a court in Yerevan allowed the ex-president’s arrest.

Pashinian confirmed the authenticity of the audio but said it was doctored to leave out important messages conveyed by him to Vanetsian. For their part, Kocharian and his lawyers portrayed it as further proof that the high-profile case is politically motivated.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee launched two separate inquiries into the scandalous leaks. It has not indicted anyone so far.

A spokeswoman for the law-enforcement body, Naira Harutyunyan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Pashinian was questioned both as a witness in the “possible interference” in the work of courts and as a “victim” of the illegal wiretapping.”

“The two interrogations lasted for two and a half hours,” she said, refusing to give other details.

Pashinian took a selfie with an Investigative Committee officer and posted it on Facebook at the start of the questioning. The prime minister declined to talk to reporters as he left the committee headquarters in Yerevan afterwards.

Vanetsian fell out with Pashinian and was sacked in September 2019 for still unclear reasons. The two men have traded bitter recriminations since then.

In a weekend article, a Yerevan newspaper controlled by Pashinian’s family accused Vanetsian of organizing a smear campaign against it. The former NSS chief, who is increasingly signaling political ambitions, strongly denied the allegations.

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