Ten defenders into the trial of what is known as Mukhrovani mutiny retracted their initial plea of guilt and told the court on September 30 that they were innocent.
They also refused to testify before the court.
Four of them (Vano Sabashvili; Imeda Saginashvili; Vazha Saginashvili and Zviad Jachvadze) face charges related with disobedience and illegal possession of explosive device and firearm; five of them (Vazha Khutsurauli; Zurab Mikadze; Nikoloz Bibilashvili; Alexander Begoian; Zaza Murjikneli) face charges related to attempted coup and illegal possession of explosives and firearm; one – Irakli Topuridze – faces charges related with disobedience.
Shota Gorgiashvili, who at the time of alleged mutiny was the commander of Mukhrovani military unit, and Levan Amiridze, at the time commander of the Tbilisi-based rangers’ battalion also refused to testify before the court on September 30. They have both entered partial plea of guilt, admitting disobedience, but rejected charges related to attempted coup. According to the prosecution the both men were among key organizers of the plot to overthrow the government through use of force.
Koba Otanadze, a retired colonel, who is also named by the prosecution as one of the key organizers of the alleged mutiny and attempted coup, again rejected the charges and also refused to testify.
At the hearing on September 30 the court questioned only Koba Kobaladze, a commander of the National Guard till 2004, who is also named by the prosecution as one of key mastermind behind the alleged mutiny and attempted coup.
Gia Gvaladze, whose controversial testimonies are the only evidence put forth by the prosecution to prove Kobaladze’s connection to the alleged crime, is among those thirteen defendants who have agreed on plea bargaining with the prosecutors and now their case for formal approval of the deal will be heard separately from the Mukhrovani trial by a separate judge, which has yet to be appointed. Gvaladze has claimed that he had met with Kobaladze and other alleged organizers of the mutiny and the coup in one of the restaurants in Mtskheta, outside Tbilisi, in late April (failing to give an exact date) to discuss the plot.
In a lengthy testimony before the court, during which only few questions were asked, Kobaladze spoke in details about his military background and biography, recalling his role and contribution to number of military operations of the Georgian armed forces during the Abkhaz war in early 90s, as well as afterwards.
He told the court that Gvaladze’s testimonies against him were utter nonsense and that he had not even known Gvaladze before meeting him in the courtroom. He said during his service in the army he had only heard about Gvaladze for few times, but had never had any relations with him.
Kobaladze, who was arrested on May 5, several hours after the mutiny was reported in the Mukhrovani military unit outside Tbilisi, said that on that day he was with his family in his house. He recalled that a journalist from the Rustavi 2 television station phoned him requesting for an interview to respond claims by Gia Gvaladze. At that time the Interior Ministry released a video footage, allegedly shot covertly by undercover agents, in which Gvaladze says that Kobaladze was among coup plotters. In the same video footage Gvaladze also named some former senior military and security officials, including of Davit Tevzadze, a former defense minister; Jemal Gakhokidze, a former security minister and Gia Karkarashvili, a commander of the Georgian army during the Abkhaz war in early 90s. But in later testimonies to investigators, as well as in his testimony before the court, Gvaladze said that other names, except of Kobaladze, were only mentioned in order to give more profile to the plot in the eyes of potential participants.
Kobaladze told the court that he met with Rustavi 2 TV crew outside his house in Tbilisi and told them in an interview that he had no idea what Gvaladze was talking about. He said at the time of giving the interview large number of law enforcement officers came and told him to follow them. He said he was taken to the office of the Department for Constitutional Security at the Interior Ministry, where he was questioned by an investigator with the second name Shelia.
“He directly told me: ‘you should write that you were preparing a mutiny.’ I told him had no idea what he was talking about. I was sentenced to pre-trial custody on May 7 and since then has not been questioned by investigators even once,” Kobaladze said.
Kobaladze told the court that although he knew Koba Otanadze, another alleged coup plotter, as both have served for years in the armed forces, “personally I never liked him.” He said the last time he met with Otanadze was 8 or 9 years ago. He also said that knew Gia Krialashvili, a former military officer, who was also named by the prosecution as one of the mastermind of the mutiny. Krialashvili was killed by the police after resisting the arrest, according to the Interior Ministry. Kobaladze said that he had “tense relations” with Krialashvili when the both were in the military service, especially after the latter staged mutiny in the Mukhrovani military unit in 2001 with social demands. He said the last time he met with Krialashvili was in 2003.
Kobaladze also said that he knows Levan Amiridze, a former commander of the Tbilisi-based rangers’ battalion for a long time already and added: “Levan was grown up as a soldier by me.” He, however, said he had no “frequent contacts” with Amiridze.
He also told the court that prior to his arrest he was told by his acquaintances close with the government that the authorities wanted him to leave the country. “When I asked why, I was told that there was a fear a person like me could have been used by an opposition force.”
“I’m an apolitical person and no one can say that I was making political statements. I have acquaintances both among the authorities and the opposition,” he told the court.
Kobaladze also faces charges related with illegal possession of explosive devices and firearm.
He denies these charges as well and says that four hand-grenades and some ammunition, which the prosecution claims he kept illegally was formally handed over to him in the town of Gori during the August war.
Kobaladze said that after the war started he, as retired general who officially is registered in reserve forces, went to Gori and “helped [the Georgian armed forces] to carry out some activities on the direction of Artsevi”, village in breakaway South Ossetia, south-east from Tskhinvali.
He said that there was “total mess” in Gori.
“There were lots of abandoned assault rifles and ammunition scattered around; I collected some of them, loaded on the truck and took to the military base in Osiauri, where I unloaded those firearms and ammunition; there are witnesses who can confirm it,” Kobaladze said.
He also told the court that in the Osiauri military base he took for himself one set of standard equipment that a soldier carries into a battle, involving one Kalashnikov assault rifle with 450 bullets, four hand-grenades (two RGD and two F1) and a bulletproof vest. He said that he had officially registered the fact of taking the ammunition at the Osiauri military unit. Kobaladze said that after that he returned back to Tbilisi and handed over the assault rifle back to the Defense Ministry, but left other ammunition and equipment “for any case” - he meant that he was not at that point sure whether the combat activities would have ceased or continued.
He said that he pleaded not guilty on these charges, because MoD officials were aware that he was keeping the ammunition, but no one had ever notified him about the need to return them. Kobaladze, however, also added that some rules and procedures would have been violated, “but it is a matter of interpretation now whether I violated law or not” by keeping those ammunition.
In his testimony before the court Kobaladze also recalled one episode from his presence in Gori during the war and said that in the town’s local municipality he met with Temur Alasania, uncle of President Saakashvili, whom, he said, knew for a long time already. Kobaladze said that Alasania told him to write a formal appeal to the President requesting to restore him in the armed service, from which he retired in 2004. “Alasania told me it would have been better if I took care of the mess ongoing there,” Kobaladze said. He added that he wrote the appeal asking the President to use his experience as he deemed it necessary. “I handed over this appeal to Alasania, but never received a response,” Kobaladze said.
The trial will continued on October 2 and it is expected to start questioning of summoned witnesses. Slightly over 100 witnesses are registered for questioning.