Questions Prevail over Zhvania’s Death
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 5 Oct.'07 / 23:54
People gathered in Vake Park to watch
a film on the circumstances surrounding the death
of PM, Zurab Zhvania.

At least a couple of thousand people gathered in a downtown Tbilisi park late in the evening on October 5 to attend an outdoor screening of a film by an investigative reporter, Vakhtang Komakhidze, about the circumstances surrounding the death of the PM, Zurab Zhvania.

The screening was organized by a group of ten opposition parties, jointly campaigning for early parliamentary elections.

This is the second piece of investigative reporting by Komakhidze and like the first one, it also focuses on what the author claims are contradictions in the official version of events around the death of the PM and the subsequent investigation.

According to the official preliminary conclusions (officially the investigation is still unconcluded) Zhvania died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater. The heater had been improperly installed in the apartment where Zhvania's body was reportedly found on February 3, 2005 in the Saburtalo district of the capital, Tbilisi, according to the prosecutor’s office. Along with Zhvania, Deputy Governor of Kvemo Kartli region Raul Usupov was also found dead in the same apartment, also reportedly killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The entire issue was revived when Irakli Okruashvili, who at the time of Zhvania’s death was the defense minister, claimed on September 25 – two days before his arrest – that Zhvania’s corpse had actually been brought into the flat where it was apparently discovered.

Friday's investigative film also claims the same, citing several pieces of evidence, which are part of the official investigation. Neither Zhvania's nor Usupov's fingerprints, for instance, were found in the apartment where the bodies were apparently discovered.

The film also focuses on, as it puts it, “discrepancies” in the findings of experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

At the Georgian government’s request, personnel from the FBI conducted a test on February 9, 2005 to measure the air quality in the apartment under conditions that approximated as closely as possible to those at the time when the two men’s bodies were found.

“Nothing was observed during the testing or in the analysis of the test data to contradict the preliminary finding of the Georgian Government that Messrs Zhvania and Yusupov died of carbon monoxide poisoning attendant to a faulty heater,” the FBI findings read.

The same report, however, also says that the atmosphere during the test period in the apartment never reached the 16% oxygen-level, where “impaired thinking” is caused. “The lowest recorded oxygen level was 18%,” according to the FBI report.

Based on the standards of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the report says that “impaired respiration that may cause permanent heart damage” is triggered when the level of oxygen in the atmosphere is 12.5% and death is caused when the level is at 10%.

The investigative movie also focuses on the mysterious murder of Levan Samkharauli, who was the chief of the Georgian National Forensics Bureau (NFB). He had been present during the examination of the heater at the NFB.

Samkharauli was gunned down three months later in the eastern Georgian town of Kvareli. According to police accounts, the murder suspect committed suicide shortly after killing Samkharauli.

A forensic expert, who carried out a post-mortem examination, however, has confirmed that Samkharauli's murder suspect died of two bullet wounds – one to the head and the other to the heart.

The outdoor screening of the investigative film was preceded by a brief protest rally, with opposition leaders demanding that the authorities reveal, what they called, “the truth” surrounding Zhvania’s death.

Koba Davitashvili, the leader of the opposition Party of People, said he had never been a friend of Zhvania's. “I was his opponent,” he said, “but I can say that Georgian politics suffers greatly with his absence, because he was a person who could engage in dialogue and who could listen to opponents – something the authorities can not do now.”

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