The trial into what is known as Mukhrovani mutiny will enter its final phase with the prosecution scheduled to deliver its closing arguments on December 23.
Defense lawyers are expected to do the same at following court sessions.
The basic gist of the trial is focused on whether the developments on May 5, 2009 in the Mukhrovani-based tank battalion, as well as in the Tbilisi-based rangers’ battalion were only disobedience by several military commanders or part of a wider conspiracy with an eventual goal to overthrow the government.
Some key figures into the trial, including former tank-battalion commander, Shota (Mamuka) Gorgiashvili, and former commander of the rangers’ battalion, Levan Amiridze, denied charges related with organizing mutiny to overthrow the government, but pleaded guilty of disobedience.
Another important issue in the center of the trial is the case of Koba Kobaladze, who was commander of the National Guard before quitting the armed forces in 2004. The prosecution claims Kobaladze was among organizers of the mutiny and of the attempted coup.
The prosecution’s case against Kobaladze is based on a single evidence – a controversial testimonies by Gia Gvaladze, who said he had met with Kobaladze and with some other coup plotters in a restaurant in Mtskheta in late April (initially he said the meeting took place in late March, but later he changed it into late April, failing to give an exact date) to discuss the plot. Gvaladze himself was one of the defendants in the trial charged with plotting the coup, who, as a result of plea bargaining with the prosecution, now serves two-year prison term.
Defense lawyers of Kobaladze, who denies charges, tried in vain at a court session on December 17 to convince the judge to exclude Gvaladze’s testimonies given to the court and earlier to investigators from the list of evidence, citing multiple contradictions in his statements. Judge, however, on the grounds that Gvaladze’s testimonies did not contain “substantial differences” turned down this motion by Kobaladze’s lawyers.
Non-militaries on the Base
The case of Koba Otanadze, a former army colonel with a background of staging mutiny in Mukhrovani base eight years ago with social demands, is another important part of the entire story. According to the prosecution’s version Otanadze was one of the key organizers of the plot, who, among other things, was recruiting civilians and former militaries for taking part in the mutiny. He was in Mukhrovani on May 5.
At the court session on December 15 several civilian defendants broke silence and testified with some of them denying being on the Mukhrovani base territory on May 5 and others saying that although they were in Mukhrovani at the time, their presence there was not in anyway related to the alleged mutiny and attempted coup.
Many prosecution witnesses, those who at the time served in the Mukhrovani-based tank battalion, told the court during the previous court hearings that they had seen several “nonmilitary” persons on the base territory on May 5 after the battalion commander, Shota Gorgiashvili, announced about disobedience, with some of them armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles. One witness told the court that counted total of 17 civilian persons.
Among the defendants there are currently twelve civilians, who according to the prosecution were in Mukhrovani on May 5 with half of them facing charges related with coup plotting and illegal arms possession and others charged with assisting in disobedience and illegal arms possession.
Although initially entering plea of guilt, ten of those twelve defendants retracted their plea of guilt in early October and refused to testify.
These twelve persons can be divided into three separate groups – one, involving five defendants (Zurab Mikadze; Zaza Murjikneli; Irakli Topuridze; Nikoloz Bibilashvili and Vazha Khutsurauli) admitting presence in Mukhrovani on May 5 and two other groups (one including Zviad Jachvadze; Imeda Saginashvili; Vazha Saginashvili and Vano Sabashvili and another including Alexander Begoian; Besik Potskhverashvili and Beka Grigalashvili) – saying they were not in Mukhrovani at all on May 5.
According to the version put forth by defendants from the first group they arrived in Mukhrovani at about 9am on May 5 (at that time disobedience was already announced by commander of the Mukhrovani-based battalion). They said that three of them had a pre-planned meeting with the battalion commander to discuss job opportunity at the base; as one of them said they were recommended before the battalion commander by Koba Otanadze. Two others, according to their version, where simply accompanying them.
According to defendants from two other groups, they were arrested on May 5 not too far from the Mukhrovani base. According to their version, they were arrested simply because they happened to be in vicinity of Mukhrovani at the time. All of them said that initially they had to plea guilty because they were under “physical and psychological pressure” from investigators.
One of the important things which these three groups have in common is that at least one person from each group knew or had a relation with Koba Otanadze in the past, with some of them serving under his command in the army in 90s.
Despite initial suggestions by senior Georgian officials that the development in Mukhrovani on May 5 could be orchestrated by Russia, the prosecution’s case does not claim that the alleged mutiny was linked with Russia. The prosecution’s files, however, include a phrase while listing the alleged organizers of the mutiny: “Koba Otanadze, Shota Gorgiashvili, Levan Amiridze and some other persons not identified by the investigation.” According to prosecutors, the investigation is still ongoing to identify others.