Hrayr Tovmasian, the chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in response to recent verbal attacks on him.

Pashinian again lashed out at Tovmasian late last month in a continuing bitter dispute with the latter and most other members of the court. In particular, he charged that Tovmasian “offered his services” and cozied up to him following the 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” He said he rebuffed those overtures because he did not want to cooperate with “representatives of the corrupt former regime.”

Tovmasian, who has been under strong government pressure to resign in recent months, rejected the claim as untrue while challenging Pashinian to come up with “credible evidence” of it. He said will take legal action if Pashinian fails to do that.

The prime minister responded by posting on Facebook a photograph of an expensive pen which he said Tovmasian gifted him at a 2018 meeting in Yerevan. He portrayed the gift as proof of “the weirdest flattery I’ve ever seen.”

Tovmasian said through his lawyers afterwards that he will press ahead with the lawsuit.

According to court records publicized on Monday, he wants Pashinian for retract the “slanderous” statements and apologize for them.

The case has already been assigned to a district court judge in Yerevan, Gayane Khachatrian. She has not yet scheduled the first court hearing.

The legal action followed Pashinian’s controversial decision to hold a referendum on dismissing Tovmasian and six other judges of the 9-member Constitutional Court who had been installed by Armenia’s former governments. Opposition groups have denounced the April 5 referendum as unconstitutional. Pashinian and his political allies have defended the legality of the vote.

Pashinian stepped up his verbal attacks on Tovmasian immediately after the latter pledged to take him to court. He said law-enforcement authorities’ allegations that Tovmasian illegally became the head of the country’s highest court shortly before the 2018 revolution are “effectively proven and irrefutable.”

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) claimed in October that the former Armenian parliament elected Tovmasian court chairman as a result of an illegal seizure of the judicial authority by a “group of officials.” It said that took the form of forgery committed by former parliament speaker Ara Babloyan and one of his top staffers. Both men strongly deny corresponding accusations leveled against them.

Armenian prosecutors have twice declined to endorse those coup accusations, ordering the SIS to conduct an “additional investigation.”

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