Gia Gvaladze, one of defendants and prosecution’s key witness into the trial of what is known as Mukhrovani mutiny, retracted his initial statement and admitted that he was an author of a letter saying testimony he had given against another defendant Koba Kobaladze was “false”.
Gvaladze, however, also told the court at a hearing on September 24, that what he had written was “not true.”
The handwritten letter by Gvaladze, which was handed over to Kobaladze’s defense lawyers on September 11, was shown to the court at a previous hearing on September 22 in which the author writes that he was forced to give a testimony against Kobaladze during the early stages of investigation as he was under pressure of investigators.
The letter gave an upper hand to Kobaladze’s defense lawyers in countering the prosecution’s case against their client. The prosecutors’ case against Kobaladze is based on testimonies by Gvaladze, who claims that Kobaladze was among key masterminds of the mutiny.
Asked by one of Kobaladze’s defense lawyers, Gela Nikoleishvili, why did he “lie” on September 22 by saying that he had not written the letter, Gvaladze responded that he thought the refusal would have been better for his family. Asked by Nikoleishvili if his family was threatened by anyone, Gvaladze responded that “because this trial is so important, threat existed; but no one has threatened my family”. He also said that because his fears turned out unjustified, he now decided to say the truth.
While trying to explain the motive of writing the letter with “a false” contents, Gvaladze said that he believed the letter would have helped him somehow. He also said that the decision to write the letter was agreed with his previous defense lawyer, whose controversial replacement with a new attorney on September 18 triggered more allegations of prosecution’s possible pressure on Gvaladze. During about six-hour long hearing Gvaladze’s new defense lawyer intervened briefly in question of her client only once.
The court spent entire September 24 hearing on Gvaladze’s questioning and it will further continue on September 28, when the trial is scheduled to resume.
In his testimony before the court Gvaladze was sticking to his previous testimony given to the investigators and again pointed finger at Kobaladze and Otar Otanadze, a retired colonel, describing them as being among organizers of the mutiny.
Gvaladze told the court that he met with Koba Otanadze, whom, he said, knew since mid-90s, “by chance” in downtown Tbilisi in early March.
Gvaladze, 37, who served in security and defense ministries special task forces from early 90s, said had to retire from active military-related service in 2000 after suffering serious head injuries following a car crash. After a recovery he continued working in the Interior Ministry structures, as well as in the police academy. He said that he was dismissed from those works “because I was always sympathizing the opposition” and after that he started to work as a guard at one of the branches of VTB bank in Tbilisi.
Gvaladze told the court that when he met with Otanadze in early March in a street, he told Otanadze that he was unhappy with his current work and about being dismissed from his previous works. He said Otanadze told him that he needed “guys like me” and offered to meet again. At the second meeting, Gvaladze continued, Otanadze started to talk with him about politics; the opposition was preparing for the launch of street protest rallies in April. “’It’s all over with Saakashvili and no one knows who will come into power’ – Otanadze told me,” Gvaladze said.
Otanadze asked him if he could recruit reliable men with military experience, including among his former co-servicemen with a purpose of “staging a mutiny, or rebellion – call it whatever you want,” Gvaladze told the court. He said Otanadze did not tell him details at that stage and gave him USD 100. On the next meeting, Gvaladze said, Otanadze again refused to say details of the plot and gave him USD 700 or USD 800. “After that I started to believe that it was serious,” he said and added that he started to approach some of his former co-servicemen, including Tamaz Khomasuridze and Giorgi Chkareuli. These two men, according to the prosecutors, reported about the conspiracy in late March to the law enforcement agencies and after that undercover agents were planted among the group of conspirators.
Gvaladze said that he and Otanadze had to “invent” stories – he called them “legends” – in order not to directly reveal to a potential recruit about the mutiny plot. One of such “legends,” he said, was an invented story according to which a kidnapping of a Turkish businessman was planned from one of the police station. “By telling such legends [to potential recruits] I was testing the ground to understand how far they were able to go and whether it was worth or not to reveal to them information about the mutiny plans,” Gvaladze said.
He said that one of such “legends” involved telling recruits as if a group of opposition politicians were also involved in the plot. In one of his testimonies given at the early stages of investigation, Gvaladze mentions names of such politicians like Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of Labor Party; Igor Giorgadze, a Russia-based ex-security chief wanted in Georgia; Bachuki Kardava, leader of National-Democratic Party; Guguli Magradze former ruling party lawmaker. He said it was also an invented story and also added that such stories were needed to convince potential recruits to participate in the mutiny and to demonstrate that together with military backing the plot also had support from the political circles.
Gvaladze was asked by Kobaladze’s defense lawyers if so many “legends” were needed for convincing recruits to participate in the mutiny, why it was so easy for Gvaladze himself to believe in Otanadze’s words and to agree to take part in the plot. Gvaladze responded: “I simply believed Otanadze.”
He said that Otanadze was revealing details of the plot to him gradually. Gvaladze said that according to the plan his recruits and servicemen of the Mukhrovani battalion, together with soldiers from the rangers’ battalion should have met outside Tbilisi, not far from the Mukhrovani base. Accompanied with tanks and armored vehicles, Gvaladze said, one group of mutineers should have seized the Tbilisi airport; the presidential residence in Shavnabada and another, larger part, should have headed towards Tbilisi to capture Interior Ministry, General Prosecutor’s Office, Parliament and the government’s administration.
While telling this story, some other defendants, mainly Koba Otanadze, were ironically smiling and shaking their heads in a sign of disapproval.
Otanadze reacted with angry remarks when Gvaladze said, that Otanadze told him 5,000-strong Russian military unit was ready to provide assistance “if needed”.
Gvaladze said that in late April (could not name an exact date), Otanadze took him to Mtskheta, outside Tbilisi to meet with other key organizers of the mutiny. He said apart of himself six other persons were gathered in a restaurant in Mtskheta, including Levan Amiridze; Otanadze; Gia Krialashvili. Details of the plan were discussed, Gvaladze said. Possible mobilization of Russian troops at Natakhtari in the west from Tbilisi was again mentioned during the meeting, he added.
Also in late April (no exact date named), Gvaladze said, he and Otanadze again went to one of restaurants close to Mtskheta where they met Koba Kobaladze and “two persons, who were unknown for me.” We have talked on the details of the same plan. Kobaladze denies attending the meeting and in one of the previous hearings he said he had met with Gvaladze for the first time in this courtroom.
In a video footage released on May 5 by the Interior Ministry, which according to the police was recorded secretly by undercover agents, Gvaladze tells to some co-conspirators, who in fact were police undercover agents, that along with Kobaladze, Davit Tevzadze, former defense minister; Jemal Gakhokidze, former security minister; Gia Karkarashvili, commander of the Georgian armed forces in early 90s, were also present at the same meeting. But later in the process of investigation he changed the testimony and said it was not true and that only Kobaladze and two “unknown persons” were only present and listing of other names was yet another “legend” to give more weight to the plot for potential recruits.
He said that the mutiny was planned overnight on May 5, but he was arrested late on May 4.