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New Twist in Mukhrovani Trial
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 19 Sep.'09 / 00:37

A judge had to adjourn the September 18 hearing of a trial into what is known Mukhrovani mutiny following a noisy argument in a courtroom triggered by unexpected announcement by one of the key defendants, Gia Gvaladze, to recuse his defense attorney.

The attorney has claimed that her client was intending to give a new testimony, which would have cleared Koba Kobaladze, a former commander of the national guard.

Gia Gvaladze, who in the past worked for the law enforcement and defense ministry structures, is one of the key persons into the case, as his testimony given to the investigators on the early stage of investigation and afterwards is the only evidence based on which charges were brought against Koba Kobaladze, who was commander of the National Guard till 2004. Koba Kobaladze rejects this accusation as well as any links with the alleged mutiny.

Like the recent hearings, the trial on September 18 started in the morning with questioning of defendants; three of them were questioned before the court announced a break.

90 minutes later, when the trial resumed after the break, prosecutor Robert Grigalashvili asked Gia Gvaladze how he felt. Gvaladze responded that he felt “normal” and was able to present at the hearing.

The court was told that during the break time, Gvaladze felt unwell and an ambulance was called.

As defense lawyers of Koba Kobaladze heard this information, they immediately requested the judge to provide medical conclusion by the ambulance team, which was called. And Koba Kobaladze told the judge that he wanted to know what was wrong with Gvaladze, because “I am sitting here [behind bars] just because of him” – a reference to Gvaladze’s testimony against Kobaladze.

Afterwards, the prosecutor told the judge that Gvaladze wanted to make a statement. Usually, defendants themselves or their defense attorneys notify judge if they want to make a statement.

After that remark by the prosecutor, judge asked Gvaladze what he wanted to say and the latter told the court that he wanted recuse his defense lawyer, Khatuna Markoishvili. He also said that he wanted another lawyer, who was present in the courtroom, to defend his interests.

Initially Gvaladze failed to name a clear motive behind his decision to recuse his defense attorney, but after the judge asked him again by naming possible motives, Gvaladze responded that “personal disagreement” with Morkoishvili was the reason.

Markoishvili told the court that she saw the prosecutors hand in her client’s decision. She also added that she had “an excellent relation” with Gvaladze.

The remarks by Markoishvili immediately triggered reaction of defense attorneys of some other defendants, calling on the judge to clarify the situation and find out who hired the new lawyer for Gvaladze. Noisy remarks and arguments prompted the judge to suspend the trial.

Announcement by Gvaladze about recusal of his original defense attorney was a surprise for his relatives present in the courtroom.
 
Outside the courtroom relatives were questioning new attorney to explain how and by whom she was hired. “Who is paying you money, instead of me?” Gvaladze’s one relative asked the new lawyer.

Gvaladze’s original lawyer, Markoishvili, told Civil.Ge that during the hearing his client explained to her that the new defense attorney was hired by one of his friends after he called him and requested to find the new one. Markoishvili, however, said she doubted that was the case.

Markoishvili claimed that her client intended to retract his testimony given against Koba Kobaladze to investigators and to tell the court “the truth.”

“He planned to say that during the preliminary investigation he was forced to testify against Kobaladze as he was under pressure [by investigators]. Now, he was going to withdraw this initial testimony,” Markoishvili said. “He also planned to say the truth about some other things as well.”
 
She also said that her recusal was not yet finally decided and she would try to clarify the situation with her client.

Before these developments at the hearing on September 18, the court questioned three defendants – Zurab Chalatashvili, a pilot of MI-8 helicopter, who served at Alekseevka air base in Tbilisi outskirts; Davit Petriashvili, a serviceman of helicopter escadrille from the same air base and Davit Sulkhanishvili, who at the time was a commander of the Gori-based First Infantry Brigade.
 
All three defendants are accused of not reporting the crime and all of them have pleaded guilty.
 
Zurab Chalatashvili told the court that on April 30 he met with Levan Amiridze, then commander of the Tbilisi-based rangers’ battalion, for “a personal business”. He said that during the conversation they talked on various issues and politics, as well as the last year’s August war was also raised during the conversation with Amiridze, who is Chalatashvili’s long-time acquaintance. At one point, Chalatashvili continued, Amiridze “mentioned” that “he wanted to declare disobedience.” “I did not deem it serious,” Chalatashvili added. He said the issue was not further discussed during this meeting with Amiridze.
 
He told the court that on May 5 that Amiridze called him on mobile phone at about 7am and requested to go to the Alekseevka air force base. Upon arrival in the base at about 8am an alert was announced in the unit, Chalatashvili said. He told the court that he again spoke with Amiridze on the phone during which the latter “requested” him to take his MI-8 helicopter and fly over the Mukhrovani military unit.
 
“It was totally impossible to do that and of course I did not do that,” Chalatashvili said and added that to conduct a flight a complicated procedure and series of permissions were required from the command, as well as from flights control center.
 
He also said that it was not clear for him why Amiridze requested him to conduct a helicopter flight over the Mukhrovani base. Chalatashvili said that he had pleaded guilty because he knew that Amiridze “wanted” to declare disobedience and did not report it to the relevant authorities. He, however, also reiterated that he never deemed those remarks by Amiridze as serious and thought “Amiridze would not have done that.”
 
A testimony by Davit Petriashvili, who at that time served in the same air base, was in the line of the one by Chalatashvili. He told the court that he was accompanying his friend Chalatashvili, when the latter met with Amiridze on April 30. He, however, said did not attend a conversation between Chalatashvili and Amiridze and was waiting for his friend in a car. He said that Chalatashvili told him about Amiridze’s remarks on “wanting to declare disobedience.” He also told the court that on May 5, Chalatashvili told him about Amiridze’s request on helicopter overflight.
 
Davit Sulkhanishvili, at the time commander of the first brigade, told the court that sometime between 6am and 7am on May 5 he was awaken up by a phone call from Levan Amiridze, his long-time acquaintance. “He was angry on something and told me he was declaring disobedience and that he hoped I would stand by him,” Sulkhanishvili said. “I told him why he was talking about it on the phone and hung up the phone.”
 
He told the court that on his way to his military unit, an hour after that brief phone conversation, he was informed by the military command about developments in Mukhrovani.
 
Sulkhanishvili told the court he pleaded guilty because he did not notify superiors about Amiridze’s early morning phone call on May 5 and his remarks during that brief conversation.
 
He also told the court that on May 4 after a regular meeting of military commanders in the Defense Ministry, he briefly spoke with then commander of the Mukhrovani military unit Col. Gorgiashvili and Kakha Kobaidze, then commander of the third infantry brigade (both are under arrest). During that conversation, Sulkhanishvili said, Gorgiashvili seemed “discontented.” “Gorgiashvili also said during the conversation: ‘it is not ruled out that someone may declare disobedience’ and asked what I thought about it. I responded that I did not believe that anyone would have done that,” Sulkhanishvili said.

The trial will resume on September 22.

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