Armenia's judiciary is reeling from a new report detailing unbridled corruption in the courts.
According to findings published on December 9 by the country's human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, bribe-taking is so rampant in Armenian courts that judges even use an unofficial price list for kickbacks.
The amounts paid as bribes can allegedly go up to $50,000.
"The data obtained through our interviews shows that the bribe amounts to 10 percent of the cost of the lawsuit," Andreasian's deputy, Genya Petrosian, told a news conference on December 9. "The majority of our interviewees said bribe rates fluctuate within the following range -- from $500 to $10,000 at courts of first instance, from $200 to $15,000 at the Court of Appeals, and from $10,000 to $50,000 at the Court of Cassation."
Andreasian's team reached its conclusions after conducting interviews with some 120 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, and analyzing all the rulings handed down over the past seven years by the Court of Cassation and the Council of Justice -- an oversight body headed by the president, the prosecutor-general, and the justice minister.
The report has sparked angry reactions from judicial authorities.
The Council of the Union of Judges has accused its authors of spreading "wrong ideas" about Armenia's judiciary and slammed it as "antigovernment."
"This report based on unfounded judgments represents a serious threat to the stability of the state and to public order," the union said in a statement on December 11.
On the same day, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian demanded that the ombudsman present evidence to substantiate his allegations.
Justice ministry spokesman Arsen Babayan has also sought to cast doubt on the report by questioning its fairness and accuracy.
Lawyers Back Ombudsman
Attorneys, however, overwhelmingly back the claims leveled by the ombudsman.
One lawyer, Tigran Hayrapetian, said that it was impossible to imagine a "better or more reliable report."
Armenian lawyers have long complained of corruption in their country's judiciary.
More than 500 lawyers held a one-day-strike last year to protest what they described as pervasive irregularities at the Court of Cassation.
Attorney Hayk Alumian says he knows of many cases where judges asked for bribes in return for favorable court decisions.
Alumian believes that authorities are in no rush to crack down on the practice, which he says allows them to manipulate judges to their advantage:
"Judges have become vulnerable both to prosecutors and security services," he says. "It is now very easy to control a corrupt judge, and the presence of such judges suits authorities."
The ombudsman's team says no judge has been brought to justice yet in Armenia for taking bribes.
Corruption watchdog Transparency International describes the judiciary as one of the most corrupt sectors in Armenia.
This year, the country's judicial system scored 4 on a 5-point scale (with 5 indicating the highest level of graft) in the organization's annual Global Corruption Barometer.
Written by Claire Bigg in Prague based on reporting by Hovannes Shoghikian and Naira Bulghadarian in Yerevan. Suren Musayelyan also contributed to this report