11 February 2008

2331) Justice For Sale - How Judicial Corruption Works In Armenia

 © This content Mirrored From TurkishArmenians  Site armenians-1915.blogspot.com Dear Hetq Editorial Staff:

Our names are Inga Karapetyan and Greg Agopian. Inga is a native of Armenia and Greg is a US citizen who obtained a Special Residency Status Armenian Passport in 2002. We would like to present the following article aimed against judicial corruption in Armenia. The case is currently being appealed to the Court of Cassation and . . a request has been made to the Judicial Council to repeal the judge status of the 3 Appeals Court Judges. I hope you can include this article on hetq.am.

On 07 April 2007 modifications to the Code of Civil Procedure went into effect, one of which was the repeal of Article 9.3. The following article reveals that the true reason for that change was to allow judges more freedom in collecting bribes. Article 9.3 maintained that the trial of any case is conducted continuously, which means no unnecessary postponements. Common practice in the Appeals Court, especially Hall 3 (Judges Sahakyan, Kharatyan and Tumanyan), was to postpone a trial, after hearing all sides, for no apparent reason. In some cases they have even been witnessed to come out of chamber and instead of reading the verdict they have announced a postponement without even stating a reason for such. The true reason is clear to be an invitation for bribes. Until 07 April 2007 they were breaking the law by such postponement for bribes but now the law has been changed to make their "bribe invitations" completely legal. Whereas before the anti-corruption struggle dealt wit!

The problem of implementation of laws, now corruption seems to be winning as it is able to undo good laws for bad. With Article 9.3 repealled, judges are now free to postpone a trial just to renegotiate a bribe. The following Agopian case is a perfect example of how those "bribe invitations" work. Witnesses revealed that a bribe had already taken place before the postponement but once Mr. Agopian presented a legally binding verdict the judge felt he had undervalued the bribe and illegally postponed the trial after hearing all sides so he could renegotiate the bribe.

Judges like any other civil servants here forget that they are just that, servants. Civil servants (from teachers, clerks on up) here use even the slightest position of authority to extort bribes by refusing to do what they are required to do by law. In the case of judges they will keep postponing the case until either side gives a bribe. Justice is hence sold to the highest bidder. A perfect example that follows is the Greg Agopian case:

Mr. Agopian settled in Armenia in 2002. Shortly thereafter he purchased 1/4 of a house with a substantial amount of land in the center of Erevan. After several problems arising with the co-owners of the land he decided to subdivide his portion of the land from the rest so he can use his portion in peace. Several attorneys guaranteed that it was an easy case as Armenian law requires equal division of joint property. A few lawyers said that bribes would be necessary even though the law is on his side, but Mr. Agopian chose to go with one of the honest lawyers. Despite offers from locals to mediate the bribes for him, Mr. Agopian refused as that would be contrary to his mission of building a just and prosperous homeland.

The first instance court denied the claim to divide the land after many postponements. The excuse was a weak one that proved yet again it is almost impossible to accomplish anything in Armenia without bribes or fear. The excuse was that there existed illegal constructions on portions of the land. The lawyers then filed another claim asking for the demolition of the illegal constructions, which would remove the artificial obstacle to seperate Mr. Agopian's portion from the joint land.

This trial was postponed many times till the judge made it clear that he would have to decide for demolition of illegal constructions. He postponed the trial one last time to collect a bribe from the other side. Seeing that Mr. Agopian won't pay a bribe the judge would expropriate the $500,000 land portion for as little as a $100 bribe and sell it to the other co-owners.

The judge in question was none other that Mnatsakan Martirosyan, one of the most corrupt judges in the country who, because of his KGB ties, can get away with murder (literally, as he presided over the Bogos Bogosian murder trial which was closely controlled by government circles to make sure nobody suffered any real punishment.) He also serves on the secretive, closed-door Justice Council which guarantees he is immune from responsibility to abide by the laws, Constitution or Treaties. It was absolutely clear when he accepted the bribe from the other side as from then on he no longer acted as a judge but as counsel. He preempted and reformulated the defendant's lawyer's questions. This was also the same judge who extorted a $2000 bribe from a local so he would not expropriate the local's inherited property.

The reality is that the first instance court is a waste of a bribe as the case gets reheard at the second instance. What happened at the second level will ASTOUND even the most die-hard patriot.

After the first level verdict, Mr. Agopian stumbled upon a secretive verdict obtained by the co-owners in early 2004 which illegally "legalized" many constructions on Mr. Agopian's land, hence depriving him of his Constitutional right to freedom of using his property. As the old Armenian proverb translates "there's no bad without a good"; that illegal, bribe-purchased verdict was a God-sent. In that verdict one of the findings was that Mr. Agopian was indeed a co-owner of that land. One of the main points of Civil Procedure are Articles 52 and 53 which state that the findings of a civil court verdict once entered into law cannot be reheard by another judge and must be accepted as fact. On 25 Sep 2006 this legally binding verdict was presented to the 3 member corrupt court. The presiding judge, Armen Tumanyan, openly stated that this was one circumstance that the court could not cross. In essence the road to expropriate Mr. Agopian's property was blocked by that legally bindi!

ng verdict. About 5 minutes after his statement Tumanyan illegally postponed the trial for no apparent reason. It would soon be clear that this postponement was an invitation for bribes. The panel, composed also of Tigran Sahakyan & Astghik Kharatyan, has many times been witnessed to postpone a trial for no apparent reason, violating the Code of Civil Procedure. The real reason of course is clear to be an invitation for bribes.

The Code of Civil Procedure specifically prohibits postponements of trial unless it is the end of the work day. In this case it was 11:44 and there was over 5 hours left in the work day. The sides can motion for postponement only to provide more evidence or request witnesses. In this case neither was done. Tumanyan's postponement was indefinite. On Nov. 3 the trial resumed. It was clear Tumanyan had accepted a bribe already as he would not have brought it out of indefinite postponement so soon and he started acting as a lawyer not a judge, as did Martirosyan at the first instance. He denied to allow additional evidence that had surfaced which would further block expropriation of the land. They also refused to allow legal precedent which is guaranteed by Art. 92 of the Constitution.

Of course, the second level criminals masquerading as judges expropriated $500,000 of land for a few hundred dollars bribe. This, even after Mr. Agopian reminded the court of Tumanyan's own words "this was one circumstance that the court could not cross". Of course for a few hundred dollars they'll cross any line. Beggars have more self-repect than judges in Armenia.

The sad thing about it is that the judges will probably never lose their jobs even though they practically admit they postponed the trial to get a bribe and later crossed the line they weren't supposed to, by their own words. There is further evidence which shows that there was secretive meetings between the defendants, Cadastre and judges without informing Mr. Agopian's side. This is a clear violation of the most basic principles of justice and can only arise from corruption.

The fact remains that when a judge admits he legally can't cross a line, then illegally postpones the trial, then 1 month later he crosses that line, that is proof enough that the postponement was specifically to collect a bribe. Else, the judge would've crossed the line the same day without postponing. But in that case nobody would pay a bribe because it would already be a done deal.

There is evidence in the verdict itself that shows the judge met with 1 side while the case was in postponement. In the verdict, the judge claims that the defendants were willing to give up 50 sq.m. of land but the defendants only made that claim in pre-trial negotiations and never made that claim in court (neither verbal nor written.) So how could the judge have known that fact, if there wasn't a secretive meeting between 1 side and the judge?

Also the judge falsified some of the evidence in his verdict. The most glaring example is that in the evidence it was written by Erevan City Council in 1963 that: Mr. Agopian's predecessor's "request to split his portion of the land was denied, because by law the land was for joint use" (Soviet laws.) But that statement made it into to the verdict as the "request to split his portion of the land was denied, hence he doesn't have land rights." Also, the judge wrote that the land was "common ownership" in the deeds of title, even though the real wording was "joint ownership". Only bribery could support such blatant misstatement of fact. No judge will risk losing their job unless they have some financial gain for themselves.

The judge also ignored statute of limitations, which alone should've been enough to stop the expropriation.

In reality whether money exchanges hands or not isn't what makes bribery. Bribery also occurs when a judge refuses to take action until a bribe is paid. That inaction is still bribery on behalf of the judge even though no money exchanged hands. Bribery is the act of influencing the legal outcome by illegal means, irrelevant of if money, gifts, promises or threats are exchanged.

Unfortunately officials get away with bribery because the system in Armenia is set up to not prosecute unless there is videotaped evidence by government officials of the transfer of marked money. In developed countries an official can lose their job based on an illegal act alone, irrelevant of if money is exchanged. Just as a murderer can be convicted based on fingerprints, without eyewitnesses, so should a judge be relieved of his duties if the facts show they broke the law. In reality though, the judge will only have to pay a bribe himself to avoid losing his job as the whole system is based on corruption and WIIFM (what's in it for me).

Inga Karapetyan and Greg Agopian
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