The prosecutor’s office said on July 22 it had agreed plea bargain terms with arrested photographers, charged with espionage, and had requested the court to approve those plea agreements.
Under the terms of the plea agreements all three photographers now remaining in the police custody will be released after receiving conditional jail sentence.
According to the motion filed to the court, the prosecution request two-year conditional sentence for Zurab Kurtsikidze, a photographer for the Frankfurt-based European Pressphoto Agency (EPA).
The prosecution wants three-year conditional sentence for Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer who also was a contract photographer with the Georgian Foreign Ministry and also worked as a stringer for the Associated Press.
Irakli Gedenidze, personal photographer for President Saakashvili, will receive three-year conditional sentence, according to the plea agreement terms.
Gedenidze’s wife, Natia Gedenidze, also a photojournalist arrested in connection to the same case on July 7 but released on bail two days later, will receive six-month conditional sentence, according to the proposed plea agreement.
Plea agreement – a widespread practice in Georgia’s criminal justice system often criticized by human rights groups –means that the case will no longer be heard in substance through main court hearing.
The prosecution says in its motion to the court that it had decided to agree on plea agreements after the accused cooperated with the investigation during which they provided Georgia’s counter-intelligence service “names of some agents” working for the Russian intelligence.
“Zurab Kurtsikidze, Giorgi Abdaladze and Irakli Gedenidze not only pleaded guilty, but they also voluntarily and timely informed the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Counter-Intelligence Department about the names of some agents of Russian Federation’s special services and the persons having confidential links with them, as well as information about concrete intelligence operational tasks of those agencies; methods, tactics and organization of intelligence gathering and passing process and also information about organizations acting under cover of [the Russian intelligence services]. All these [information] provides a possibility to identify, prevent and neutralize possible threats to the Georgian state interests,” the prosecution says in its motion to the court.
“It is noteworthy, that after revealing the mentioned information, the situation has changed and Zurab Kurtsikidze, Giorgi Abdaladze, as well as Irakli Gedenidze and Natia Gedenidze no longer pose a threat to the society,” the prosecution said.
The prosecution said that apart of confession statements made by the accused, the investigation obtained number of other evidence to prove its case against the photographers.
The Chief Prosecutor’s Office released through its website on July 22 several confidential documents with blacked-out words and phrases, claimed to be retrieved as a result of search from the houses of the accused photographers.
The prosecution said that the counter-intelligence unit found that Irakli Gedenidze, the President Saakashvili’s personal photographer possessed plan of security measures approved by Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili for the visit of the Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves to Georgia earlier this month. It also said that Gedenidze kept list with personal information and data of employees of a state company provided various services to the governmental agencies, as well as list of cleaners working in the presidential administration.
The prosecution claims that Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer who also was a contract photographer with the Georgian Foreign Ministry and also worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, kept a transcripts of conversations of Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov with President Saakashvili and PM Nika Gilauri during his visit to Georgia in mid-June. The transcripts, major part of which is blacked-out, was posted on the Chief Prosecutor’s website. The prosecution said that Abdaladze also kept list of Georgian citizens working in Georgia’s UN, OSCE missions, as well as in representation to the Council of Europe.
The prosecution said that copies of documents found in possession of Abdaladze and Gedenidze were also kept by Zurab Kurtsikidze, a photographer for EPA. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office also posted on its website what it said was telephone records through which the investigation was claiming that Kurtsikidze was in contact with the Russian intelligence officers in 2004.
According to Georgia’s criminal procedure code, plea agreement between prosecution and defense is approved by court decision and judge should make sure that the plea bargain deal is not concluded upon coercion; the judge should also examine the evidence supporting the charges. In the majority of cases judges approve plea agreements.
Some lawyers from the defense teams of Abdaladze and Kurtsikidze have said that their clients’ confession statements were “not made upon their free will” and claimed that they confessed as a result of “psychological pressure”.