Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan recalls ‘old Armenian saying’, blames victims, and asks to investigate the NGO that aided them. Alleged corruption and abuse in PG’s office

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.



Ambassador, DCM and Poloff met with Armenian Prosecutor General (PG) Aghvan Hovsepyan August 8 about allegations of investigative misconduct and abuse in connection with a human trafficking case. The underlying case involves three prostitutes who allege they were trafficked from Armenia to Turkey via Georgia with fraudulent documents, and coerced and deprived of payment under threat of arrest. Hovsepyan began by saying he was familiar with the case and rejecting the allegations out of hand; however, he eventually committed to investigating the allegations. The PG first defamed the victims, and volunteered that he had asked the National Security Service (NSS) to investigate the NGO that had aided them. After a long discussion, he came around to a more responsive approach. End Summary.

On July 28, three alleged trafficking victims from Gyumri, Armenia's second-largest city, were interviewed by investigators from the PG's office. After their interview, they stormed fuming into the Yerevan branch of "Hope and Help," an NGO that assists prostitutes and trafficking victims, to complain about the conduct of investigators Armen Gasparyan and Aristakes Yeremyan. (COMMENT: Yeremyan has been accused of complicity with traffickers before. The PG's office opened what we believe was a cursory investigation into those allegations in February.)

[two of the three prostitutes] Mkrtchyan and Madoyan claimed PG office investigators Gasparyan and Yeremyan told them to recant the testimonies they had given to the police. Madoyan also claimed Yeremyan struck her in the face during a July 31 meeting. Among their complaints were that the investigators told them to say the trafficker owed them less money than she actually did, and accused them of filing police statements in order to blackmail the alleged trafficker. (NOTE: Under the Armenian system, criminal investigators are an arm of the PG's office, and thus of the judicial branch. Police services are separate, and fall under the purview of the executive branch.)

COMMENT: There were some discrepancies in the victims' stories. We also have some questions about the mental competence of one of the victims. The complete circumstances of the matter are therefore legitimately open to some question. We are persuaded, however, that the basic facts of the case are accurate. Investigating authorities must take such allegations seriously, and not dismiss them out of hand because they find the victims distasteful.

Ambassador, DCM and Poloff met together with the PG to underline the seriousness of the case, both in its own right and as a bellwether for Armenian authorities' handling of TIP cases. The Ambassador discussed in detail several of the allegations, and stressed that they presented an opportunity for the PG's office to demonstrate its commitment to anti-TIP efforts.

Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan was aware of the reason for our call. He smirked unmistakeably as the Ambassador raised our points. Hovsepyan spent a few minutes listing the GOAM's achievements on trafficking, before addressing the case at hand. He then told us he had heard about these allegations a week earlier from the National Security Service (NSS), adding that he had then asked the NSS to investigate both the victims and the NGO that had reported the allegations to the government. (NOTE: The Ambassador did not mention the NGO specifically, but when the prosecutor did so, he confirmed that an NGO had been involved.)

Hovsepyan said he had personally investigated the allegations, and said that the case notes made it clear that the prostitutes had been lying. He characterized them as "unconscientious and non-compliant," saying derisively that they were "governed by different interests in their daily lives." He kept repeating that the prostitutes were angry that the investigators were not helping them recover their unpaid salaries from the pimp, and that money had motivated the allegations. He robustly defended Yeremyan. (NOTE: This is not surprising, given information we have received from Anti-TIP Unit Senior Prosecutor Armen Boshnaghyan (please protect) that the investigator has Hovsepyan's full support) During his impassioned defense of Yeremyan, Hovsepyan cited an Armenian proverb which, roughly translated, means "May God keep us from the evil that comes from prostitutes."

The Ambassador said he disagreed with the proverb, and that the shared Christian heritage of our countries compelled us to "hate the crime, but love the victim." He told Hovsepyan that he was troubled to hear that the prosecutor general had asked the NSS to investigate the prostitutes and the NGO, rather than investigate the allegations. Hovsepyan said there must have been a translation error, and that he actually had said that he asked the NSS to investigate the allegations, since it would not do to have the PG's office investigate itself. (NOTE: There was no translation error.) A few minutes later, Hovsepyan said his office had in fact been investigating the complaints for a week, and that it would continue to do so.

Finally, Hovsepyan agreed to launch an internal investigation of the allegations. He said he would solicit the NGO's input. But he continued to sing Yeremyan's praises and to accuse the prostitutes of lying. He also mentioned that Yeremyan had asked repeatedly to be moved out of the Anti-TIP Unit, and that he would consider granting that request.

Hovsepyan's performance was in character and betrayed the PG's apparent personal attitude toward trafficking victims and cases. We think we have at least ensured a more serious investigation of this case. We intend to pursue this matter further, and are optimistic that bringing pressure to bear on the MFA will achieve results, given President Kocharian's interest in Armenia's TIP rating. We will make the point that the next Interim Assessment is coming up.

[By: Amb. John M. Evans]

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