President Saakashvili said on July 26, that one part of the Georgian opposition, which he described as “marginal”, had long been linked to Georgian organized crime network in Europe and Russia and added that it had been confirmed by the Austrian police report.
The German daily, Frankfurter Rundschau, and then The Wall Street Journal reported in June and July, respectively, citing a 66-page report by the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office, that Georgian organized crime network raised funds for the Georgian opposition groups, whose identities were not revealed in the articles, to finance lengthy street protest rallies in 2009, involving blocking of main thoroughfare in Tbilisi for over three months with improvised prison cells.
“It is no secret that, unfortunately, one part of political spectrum – I am speaking about a marginalized part of the opposition and all the elections have demonstrated that they have no support – so, this marginalized part, which does not run for the elections at all but call themselves politicians – they are actively linked with organized crime,” Saakashvili said in live televised remarks, while meeting with senior officials from the ministry in charge of penitentiary system.
“We know about it and it is not our speculation. The Austrian police have published a voluminous report, which clearly shows that street protest rallies in Tbilisi were financed by Georgian organized crime, including from Austria and other European countries and of course from Russia,” Saakashvili said.
“Therefore, the esthetics of these rallies was not accidental – cells, thieves, criminal slang on TV. A small part of the society yielded to it and got engaged in it actively. We met it cold-bloodedly, because I know, that criminals are cowards, the political rallies financed by criminals were doomed to failure and nobody would have been able to impose the logic of cells, cages and thieves on the society. But the fact that it was financed by Georgian mafia including with the help of foreign centers is confirmed by Austrian police and European press was also writing about it. I think that those politicians, who were openly associated with it, should be ashamed. I think that the voters have already delivered a verdict to them during the last elections and the same will happen in the future,” Saakashvili added.
He made the remarks when speaking about the problems, which the authorities faced in the penitentiary system few years ago and said that one of the key challenges was to eradicate the practice when criminal world was ruled by criminal bosses from within the prisons. Saakashvili said that when in late 2005 he appointed Bacho Akhalaia, who is now defense minister, on the post of prison system chief, the priority was “to isolate” criminal bosses.
“We were warned that it would trigger prison riot; but Bacho [Akhalaia] responded: ‘we are not afraid.’ There really was a riot and he had to resort to force,” Saakashvili said, referring to violence in the Tbilisi prison in March, 2006 in which seven inmates were killed.
Saakashvili said that at the time Akhalaia was criticized by those people, “who are actively linked with criminal [groups]; I am absolutely sure about that.”
He said that now the priority was “to humanize prison”; he also said that the government’s policy direct towards decrease of crime rate has resulted in increase of prison population, which should be tackled by ongoing process of building new prison facilities.
According to the Public Defender’s human rights report, overcrowded prison cells remained a problem, which on the one hand was a result of increasing number of inmates and lack of infrastructure, and on the other hand by government’s criminal justice policy and current practice of consecutive sentencing of convicts.
Saakashvili said at the same meeting with the ministry staff that consecutive sentencing of convicts “through which the prison term may reach dozens of years, is not normal.” He added that Georgia should now move “to European system, which is more liberal.”