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New Circumstance Emerges in Mukhrovani Trial
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 22 Sep.'09 / 20:21

  • Demand for judge recusal;
  • Some defendants refused to testify for now;
  • “Handwritten letter ruins case against Kobaladze”

The court was shown on September 22 a handwritten letter, allegedly written by one of key figures into the Mukhrovani trial, Gia Gvaladze, saying his testimony against one of defendants, Koba Kobaladze, was made under pressure of investigators and that Kobaladze is innocent.

The handwritten letter was presented to judge Jemal Kopaliani by defense lawyers of Koba Kobaladze, a retired general who served as commander of the National Guard till 2004, who faces charges related with an attempted overthrow of government through use of force.

Like during the previous hearing on September 18, Gvaladze was again in the center of the trial at the court session on September 22. During the previous hearing developments surrounding Gvaladze grew into noisy arguments in the courtroom prompting the judge to adjourn the trial till September 22. The reason was Gvaladze’s surprise announcement that he was replacing his defense lawyer, who has been following the case from the very beginning in May. His former defense lawyer claimed prosecutors’ pressure on Gvaladze behind his decision.

Gvaladze, who in the past worked for the law enforcement and defense ministry structures, is himself accused of an attempted overthrow of government through use of force, and at the same time is prosecutors’ key witness in their case against Koba Kobaladze. Testimony given by Gvaladze in early stages of the investigation, that he conspired among others with Kobaladze too, is the only evidence based on which prosecutors built their case against Kobaladze.

One of the defense lawyers of Kobaladze read out at the hearing on September 22 the handwritten statement allegedly written by Gvaladze saying: “my testimonies given to the preliminary investigation against Kobaladze are false” made under pressure by investigators. The author of the letter also says that he decided to write it because “in the course of the trial the pressure may again reoccur”, which might prevent him from giving true testimony to the court.

Defense lawyers of Kobaladze told the judge that the letter was written by Gvaladze on September 11 and handed over to them in a courtroom. 

Lawyers requested the judge to formally include the letter in the case so that to be considered by the judge before announcing a verdict. Lawyers also requested the judge to carry out calligraphy expertise in order to ascertain that the letter was written by Gvaladze and that it was not a fake.

“This letter ruins the prosecution’s entire case against Koba Kobaladze,” Gela Nikolaishvili, one of Kobaladze’s defense lawyers, told the judge.

When the judge showed the handwritten letter to Gia Gvaladze and asked him whether it was written by him or not, Gvaladze responded: “It resembles very much to my handwriting.”

Koba Kobaladze intervened emotionally at that point telling Gvaladze: “Do you have any dignity? Say the truth.”

After calling on Kobaladze to keep silent, the judge again told Gvaladze to answer on the direct question whether the letter was written by him or not. Gvaladze responded: “No”.

Gvaladze’s answers prompted Kobaladze’s lawyers to further insist on a calligraphy examination and also demanded to involve independent experts, nominated by the lawyers, in the process of examination.

Prosecutors, however, told the judge that they were against of the motion put forth by Kobaladze’s lawyers on the grounds that it was made in violation of procedures, claiming that the motion should have been put forth earlier, because the letter, as claimed by lawyers, became available on September 11.

Lawyers justified their decision to unveil the letter eleven days later, with the “new circumstances”, which, they said, emerged after the September 18 hearing. Kobaladze’s lawyers’ said that they decided to withhold the letter till now, because they were not sure about Gvaladze’s intentions and how sincere he was, taking into consideration his flip-flops made in his testimonies to the preliminary investigation. But developments during the September 18 hearing, lawyers said, strengthened their allegations that Gvaladze was under the prosecutors’ pressure and decided to put forth the letter.

The judge ruled partially positive on the lawyers request and ordered to carry out a calligraphic expertise; he, however said it was not appropriate at this stage to formally include the letter in the case and that the final decision on the matter would be made when the expertise results became known. He also declined the defense lawyers’ request to involve their experts in examination of the handwritten letter.

Also on September 22, defense lawyers of Koba Kobaladze filed for a recusal of judge, Jemal Kopaliani, claiming that he was failing to preside over the trial impartially and put forth as one of the arguments developments that took place during the hearing on September 18.

Lawyers said that the judge decided to approve on September 18 Gvaladze’s surprise request for recusal of his previous lawyer without taking into consideration the condition in which Gvaladze was at that moment. Lawyers said that according to the official papers, requested from the emergency ambulance team, which treated Gvaladze during the break time on the September 18 hearing, he was given two pills of Relium, a tranquilizer medicine. Judge Kopaliani declined the argument and said that he asked Gvaladze about his condition and continued hearing after receiving an answer from him that he felt well and was able to present at the hearing. The defense lawyers also complained that replacement of Gvaladze’s previous attorney took place in unclear circumstances and the judge did not clarify the situation.

In another argument, Kobaladze’s defense lawyers also said, that on September 11 when the judge was asking defendants whether they pleaded guilty or not, Gvaladze responded that he pleaded guilty only partly and would say “the truth” in the course of the trial. Gvaladze faces charges only in relation to attempted overthrow of the government and it remained unclear what “partial” plea of guilt meant in his case. Kobaladze’s lawyers complained that the judge did not clarify this issue with Gvaladze, unlike in case of another defendant in the same situation. The argument was also rejected by the judge by saying that he did not deem to ask any additional question to Gvaladze, because he said he intended to speak about the detail in the course of the trial.

Kobaladze’s defense lawyers also told the judge that they suspected him being “under pressure” of President Saakashvili’s statement made on May 5 – on the day when Mukhrovani mutiny was reported. Saakashvili said in televised remarks that the Georgian law enforcement agencies “should have dealt with Kobaladze much earlier.” But the judge said he had not even heard that statement by the President.

The judge eventually turned down the defense lawyers’ request for his recusal.

Also on September 22, the judge turned down a request by defense lawyers of Kobaladze to order psychological examination for Gvaladze. Lawyers argued that such examination was needed in order to find out how reliable his testimonies could have been. They said that Gvaladze changed for number of times testimonies given to the preliminary investigation and they lacked consistency. Gvaladze himself told the judge that he was not against of such examination; but prosecutors spoke against the motion and said it was an attempt by the defense lawyers “to pressurize” on Gvaladze. And the judge said, while rejecting the motion, that it was up to the court to assess whether Gvaladze’s testimonies were consistent or not.

The court was expected to continue questioning of defendants, but was adjourned till September 22 after it emerged that twelve of them were not ready at this stage to give a testimony to the court. During the hearing on September 18, seven other defendants also refused to give testimony at this stage.

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