Secretary of National Security Council, Giga Bokeria, said arrest of former defense and interior minister Bacho Akhalaia, as well as of army chief of staff Giorgi Kalandadze and commander of 4th brigade of the armed forces Zurab Shamatava was “political retribution”, which hit a blow to Georgia’s democratic processes.
“Use of the prosecutor’s office for political purposes and for political retribution is evident,” Bokeria said in televised remarks on November 7.
“These steps have already hit a blow to Georgia both within the country, in terms of democratic processes and outside the country, in terms of our reputation, especially in the context of the upcoming NATO [foreign ministerial] summit [in December],” he said.
“The only step, which may slightly mitigate the blame of the new authorities, is to immediately release all these persons under the circumstances when all of these persons are ready to cooperate with the investigation. This is the only legal step that can slightly mitigate their [the authorities] responsibility,” Bokeria added.
Akhalaia, 32, who has been President Saakashvili’s one of the closest allies, was prison system chief in 2005-2008, defense minister in 2009-2012 and interior minister in July-September, 2012.
Akhalaia was arrested after about four hours of questioning in the prosecutor’s office shortly after midnight on November 7.
In early hours of the same day Brigadier-General Giorgi Kalandadze, who was appointed by the President as Chief of Joint Staff of the Armed Forces a week after the October 1 parliamentary elections, was also arrested.
Commander of 4th brigade of the Georgian armed forces, Zurab Shamatava, was also arrested on November 7.
All three men were arrested in connection to ongoing investigation involving alleged mistreatment of six servicemen in October, 2011 when Akhalaia served as Defense Minister, according to chief prosecutor’s office.
Secretary of NSC, Giga Bokeria, suggested that army chief of staff Kalandadze was arrested because of new Defense Minister Irakli Alasania’s “openly declared” goal to replace him with Vakhtang Kapanadze.
After the new government, led by PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, took office, new Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said on October 31 that consultations were ongoing with the President’s office about replacement of Kalandadze. Appointment of army chief of staff is within the President’s authority. Alasania reportedly wanted his ally Vakhtang Kapanadze to take the post of chief of army staff; but on November 2 Alasania announced that Kapanadze, who was chief of army staff for six months in 2004, was appointed as deputy chief of joint staff of the Georgian armed forces.
Bokeria said that after the President refused to replace army chief of staff, “hero of the 2008 August war was sidelined with the use of criminal proceedings” – he was referring to Kalandadze, who was the commander of 4th brigade during the war with Russia.
On Akhalaia, Bokeria said that former defense and interior minister returned back to Georgia and expressed readiness to cooperate with the law enforcement agencies and “there was no reason whatsoever to arrest him.”