The court listened to most of the defendants’ closing statements on December 29 as a trial into what is known as Mukhrovani mutiny is nearing its end with the judge expected to give his verdict next month.
The closing statements of those key defendants, who refused to testify before the court, were capturing most of the interest, including of Shota (Mamuka) Gorgiashvili, who was a commander of the Mukhrovani-based tank battalion when he declared disobedience on May 5, 2009.
Although initially he entered plea of guilt on both charges, involving mutiny with a goal to overthrow the government and disobedience, in late September Gorgiashvili retracted his plea of guilt over coup charges, still admitting disobedience.
Gorgiashvili, for whom the prosecutor requested 19-year prison term, refused to testify before the court and also refused to make his testimony, given to investigators, public.
“I understand there might be many questions to me about what has happened in Mukhrovani; but I chose not to testify,” he told the court in his closing remarks on December 29.
“After the August war we – the military personnel, officers – were discussing those events. I have never hidden my discontent and I can not imagine an officer being satisfied after the lost war, especially about things which happened [during the August war],” he said without going into details.
“What has happened in Mukhrovani was on my part a manifestation of this discontent. And I have told this in details to Shmagi Telia,” he said, referring to commander of the Georgian land forces, who met with Gorgiashvili in the Mukhrovani base few hours after he declared disobedience.
Telia, who testified before the court as prosecution’s witness on November 3, said that at the meeting Gorgiashvili was speaking about “internal army problems”. But Telia said that he failed to receive “a comprehensive answer” from Gorgiashvili and it remained unclear for him what exactly he was demanding and why he was declaring disobedience.
“Many witnesses questioned by the court [those who served in Mukhrovani at that time] were asked how I was explaining my decision to declare disobedience and they were saying that I was protesting against the military parade [which at the time was planned for May 26 to mark the Independence Day],” Gorgiashvili said in his closing statement.
“That really was among the reasons, but I have told other [reasons] to Shmagi Telia and although he said he could not understand, in fact he did understand everything very well and he even agreed with me,” Gorgiashvili said.
He said that there was no mutiny on the base and there were no plans to overthrow the government. Gorgiashvili also indicated in his statement that his military unit had enough armament and time to move towards Tbilisi if he intended a coup, as claimed by the prosecution.
“I had total of 70 armored vehicles [including battle tanks and infantry armored vehicles] on the base… and I had at least four hours [from declaring disobedience till government forces siege the base] to take actions,” Gorgiashvili said.
“If I wanted to take the action, than I would not have told soldiers that the unit was not going to leave the base territory,” he added.
Many witnesses, those who at the time served in the Mukhrovani base, told the court in previous sessions that Gorgiashvili after declaring about disobedience also announced that those disagreeing with him could have left the base territory and that the unit was remaining on the base territory.
Commander of the land forces, Shmagi Telia, told the court that although he had information that the tank battalion planned to leave the base territory and although on the base territory he had seen two tanks and an infantry armored vehicles out of their hangars, he had not seen any “convoy of military hardware” prepared for marching and for leaving the base territory.
In his closing statement, Shota Gorgiashvili, however, did not address other important aspects of the May 5 events in Mukhrovani, including presence of civilians and former militaries on the base territory after he declared disobedience. The issue is an important part of the prosecution’s case, claiming that those non-military persons were part of the plot to stage the coup.
Koba Otanadze, a retired army colonel, who is claimed by the prosecution to be one of the key organizers of the mutiny, was also in Mukhrovani on May 5, according to the prosecution and witnesses.
In his brief closing remarks, Otanadze, who also refused to testify before the court, denied plotting the coup and said that even if he intended the coup, he would not have recruited such person like Gia Gvaladze, the prosecution’s key witness. Although Gvaladze in the past served in the military and security structures, he had no experience in combat operations and Otanadze was referring to this fact saying that Gvaladze was not experienced.
In late November and early December the court held several sessions behind the closed doors during which the court watched and listened to prosecution’s evidence, obtained through secret surveillance and by undercover agents. The evidence, content of which is not public, includes tapes of phone conversation, claimed by the prosecution to be, between Otanadze and Gvaladze in weeks ahead of the May 5 developments in Mukhrovani.
A retired general, Koba Kobaladze, who also faces charges related with organizing mutiny to overthrow the government, also gave his closing statement at the court session on December 29, calling charges against him “an absurd”. Kobaladze, for whom the prosecutor demanded prison term of 13 years and six months, gave a lengthy testimony to the court on September 30.
Kobaladze’s case is the weakest point of the prosecution, as charges against him are solely based on controversial testimonies by Gia Gvaladze.
Shortly after Kobaladze was arrested on May 5, President Saakashvili told Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, that the law enforcement agencies “should have dealt with Kobaladze much earlier.”
“I am astonished; I can not understand what is going on… Gvaladze pointed finger at someone and that became enough reason to bring charges,” Kobaladze said in his closing statement.
Kobaladze told the court that he hoped he would be acquitted and he would not have to appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Kobaladze’s lawyers have already turned to ECHR arguing that their client’s pre-trial detention was illegal as there were no relevant and sufficient grounds for this measure.
The court will hear closing statement of Levan Amiridze, a former commander of the Tbilisi-based rangers’ battalion, who is yet another important figure into the case, at the next session on January 8.
Currently 21 defendants remain in the trial, with one of them, Zaza Sandodze, a civilian who is a relative of Koba Otanadze, already having plea bargaining deal with the prosecution on two-year prison term (the deal has yet to be formally approved by the judge).