Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Georgia's Former President Saakashvili may Face Multiple Charges

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By Archil Zhorzholiani (the 30/10/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Criminal proceedings could be opened against Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili after the end of his second presidential term and the October 27 presidential elections, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili stated on October 21.

While former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia are already in pre-trial detention while another former defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is detained in France and Tbilisi’s Mayor Gigi Ugulava is on trial, questions addressed to Saakashvili are rather likely, Ivanishvili told to Imedi TV. In another interview to AFP on the same day, Ivanishvili termed Saakashvili a “political corpse” and politically insolvent. Among the cases in which Saakashvili may face legal prosecution, Ivanishvili mentioned the death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in 2005.

According to the official version, concluded shortly after the incident, Zhvania and Raul Usupov, deputy governor of the Kvemo Kartli region, died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by an improperly installed gas heater. In November 2012, after the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition came to power, the prosecutor’s office renewed a probe into Zhvania’s case that has been in progress since.

The issue gained new momentum in Georgian media after Zhvania’s brother, GD Member of Parliament Giorgi Zhvania declared recently that newly revealed evidence suggests that the former PM may have been assassinated by the former Georgian leadership. The Chief Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili seemed to vindicate his claims by stating that “new evidence, new circumstances, and consequently a new version” has emerged in the ongoing investigation.

Giorgi Zhvania has questioned the official conclusions from very beginning. He insisted for years that his brother and Usupov died in another place and were then transported to the apartment where their corpses were officially found. He has claimed that former Interior Minister Merabishvili, former Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze and former Prosecutor General Zurab Adeishvili were involved in organizing the transportation of the corpses. Although Zhvania has not charged senior government officials with killing the former PM, he claimed that they were acting on Saakashvili’s orders.

In response, Saakashvili asserted that Ivanishvili has reopened the investigation for political purposes while “everyone knows what happened, it was a tragic accident.” Although Zhvania was a prominent politician, his brother definitely has never been a politician, Saakashvili said. He claimed that the oligarchs, initially Badri Patarkatsishvili and later Ivanishvili, engaged Giorgi Zhvania in politics to sustain further speculations regarding Zhvania’s death, in an attempt by GD to direct peoples’ attention from its unfulfilled promises to compromising evidence ahead of the presidential elections.

Ivanishvili’s recent statement signals that the effort to investigate former officials will step up after the presidential elections and could well be concluded with Saakashvili’s arrest. Consequently, a major topic of discussion among analysts, politicians and ordinary Georgians is to what extent the West may seek to prevent such a course of events.

On October 23, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the EU Neighborhood Policy in support of initialing an Association Agreement (AA) with Georgia at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in late November. The resolution says that the signing of the agreement will be contingent on Georgian authorities showing “tangible progress” in the area of rule of law and democracy.

However, an early version of the resolution stipulated “the release of political prisoners including Vano Merabishvili” as an additional condition for initialing an AA with Georgia. The passed version of the document, however, excluded the phrase. GD leaders insisted that Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) initially managed to incorporate the phrase “political prisoner” in the resolution through its close ties with the European People’s Party (EPP), but that GD lawmakers convinced the European Parliament to remove it.

However, the former head of the Georgian mission to the EU, Salome Samadashvili, claimed that the EPP shunned the inclusion of strong wording in the resolution in order not to reduce Georgia’s chances of initialing an AA at the Vilnius summit. Yet, the document clearly warns the government not to deviate from European standards of treatment regarding opposition leaders currently being in the pre-trial detention, according to Samadashvili. She also reiterated that though former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko has never been termed a “political prisoner,” her case has soured EU-Ukraine relations for two years. The same may well happen with Georgia if its government fails to consider the warning tone of the resolution, she said.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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