- Associated Press - Friday, December 27, 2019

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) - The head of Armenia’s highest court said he was summoned for questioning Friday in what he described as part of a political campaign to push him out.

Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasyan told reporters he refused to testify in a criminal case related to his earlier stint as justice minister.

He called the criminal probe against him the latest episode in a campaign of intimidation and pressure waged by Armenian authorities.

Justice Minister Rustam Badasian said the criminal case was opened to look into Tovmasyan’s alleged abuse of office but wouldn’t give details.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government has been looking for ways to unseat the court’s chief, who is seen as an ally of the Caucasus nation’s previous rulers. Tovmasyan’s term runs through 2035.

In October, the court rejected the government’s motion seeking Tovmasyan’s ouster.

Earlier this month, parliament approved a law that offers various perks to members of the Constitutional Court if they step down before their term ends. The opposition has interpreted it as another attempt to force Tovmasyan out.

As part of the probe against him, investigators also questioned his elderly father, asking him where he obtained the money to fix the roof of his modest house. Tovmasyan’s daughters were also questioned.

Pashinian, who came to power in 2018 after leading protests that drove his predecessor from office, has pushed for investigations of political foes.

Tovmasyan drew the prime minister’s anger by challenging the arrest of Armenia’s ex-president, Robert Kocharian.

Pashinian responded by urging supporters to blockade the Constitutional Court and other courts in the capital.

Kocharian has been jailed on charges of overturning constitutional order for ordering a 2008 police operation against a protest that Pashinian helped organize. Eight demonstrators and two police died in the clash.

The 2008 demonstration protested the results of an election that declared Serzh Sargsyan as Kocharian’s replacement. Sargsyan served as president for 10 years, then tried to keep power by becoming prime minister but was quickly driven out of office by protests led by Pashinian.

Earlier this month, Armenia’s state investigative agency accused Sargsyan of embezzlement - charges he dismissed as a political vendetta.

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