Society’s Victory?: Panama Papers-triggered resignation of SMEJA chief sparks debate in Armenia

Photo: Photolure

The Monday resignation of Mihran Poghosyan, the head of the Justice Ministry’s powerful Service of Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA), whose name is linked with a global offshore scandal, is considered by some as a victory for media or civil society, others, however, believe it is not enough in terms of restoring justice and legality.

The Hetq online newspaper previously reported that Poghosyan’s name figured in the leaked set of 11.5 million confidential documents that provide detailed information about more than 214,000 offshore companies. The official’s resignation is considered a victory for the media, but now the ball is in the field of the Ethics Commission on high-ranking officials, to which the Transparency International Anticorruption Center turned after the publication of the article.

The SMEJA’s official website published the following post from Poghosyan: “My name has emerged in recent publications by Armenian and international media about the Panamanian offshore. I regret that my name is mentioned next to the name of the family of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who has, in reality, misappropriated billions of dollars.”

“I consider it unacceptable to become a cause of any civilizational parallel between my country and dictatorial Azerbaijan, and for this reason I tender my letter of resignation today. I will publically comment on the offshore-related publications as an ordinary citizen, without having any state levers,” the 39-year-old Major-General of Justice concluded.

This news became the main topic of Monday morning and gave rise to dual assessments throughout the whole day. If some considered linking the resignation with Poghosyan’s wish not to be associated with Azerbaijani President Aliyev a weak argument, others viewed the resignation as a getaway and were calling for investigating the case and holding the official liable.

“I have just learned that I am registered together with Ilham Aliyev in the same platform in Twitter. I am ashamed of it. And I demand that he leave Twitter. Because I do not want to leave my place,” Samvel Martirosyan, a blogger and IT expert, said sarcastically in a Facebook post.

“A resignation with such a reason should be immediately rejected and he should be reinstated in his post. Immediately after that he should be dismissed and tried on charges of stealing money,” wrote another Facebook user Nazareth Seferyan, stressing that Poghosyan’s explanation is also like a fairy-tale.

“What resignation? [He must be] prosecuted and compensate for losses of the state and individuals,” wrote activist Tsovinar Nazaryan.

Along with hundreds of such comments there were also those that considered Poghosyan’s resignation a victory of media. However, journalist and publicist Ruzan Khachatryan treated this approach with reservation in

“I must confess, my hands just itch to write that it is [media’s victory]. But a number of factors still make me refrain from voicing this great victory of investigative journalists.”

Khachatryan also touched upon the form and content of the resignation. “In a democratic country on the very day of the incriminating facts publication the official should have tendered his letter of resignation and should have brought at least the following reasons: for the sake of fair investigation, not viewing my position as a means of pressure, and for the sake of the public to believe that I am innocent.”

“Therefore, Armenia will only then become truly democratic when a state official immediately after publication of most serious facts against him or her will reconcile with those facts, or present substantiated evidence denying them, or resign,” said the journalist.

According to the Law on Public Service, even in the case of the resignation of senior officials, the Ethics Commission can examine the information relating to the accusations: in case of finding illegal actions during the official’s term in office he or she is to be held responsible.

The Commission has not yet accepted an application on proceedings related to Poghosyan pending a probe into the allegations. If, however, the proceedings start, the Commission shall send the materials found to the Prosecutor General’s Office.