After Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava refused to appear before the police for questioning “as a witness” in connection to scuffles that broke out outside the National Library on February 8, the Interior Ministry warned on Monday that “coercive measures” might be applied.
After Ugulava was summoned by the police for questioning, the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office said on Sunday that Ugulava was willing to testify but because of tight schedule would not be able to arrive in the police station and instead was inviting investigators at his office.
When in early February Ugulava was summoned for questioning by the Finance Ministry’s investigations service in connection to alleged misspending of GEL 5.2 million by the Tbilisi municipality, Ugulava refused to arrive at the investigations service and invited investigators at his office; investigators accepted the offer and questioned Ugulava in the Tbilisi City Hall.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Monday that according to existing laws a witness has to appear and testify if summoned and “coercive measures” can be applied to bring such witness before investigators; it, however, can only be made in case of court order.
Use of “coercive measure” to bring witness before investigators for questioning on the stage of pre-trial investigation will no longer be applicable when new regulations of criminal procedure code go into force starting from December 1, 2013.
“The investigation warns Tbilisi Mayor, Mr. Gigi Ugulava, that if he does not comply with obligations envisaged by the criminal procedure code and does not appear [before investigators] to testify, his inaction will be considered as refusal by the witness to testify and coercive measures envisaged by the law will be applied against him,” reads the statement of the Interior Ministry, which also says that a refusal by witness to testify is a crime envisaged by the article 371 of the criminal code, which carries either fine or prison term for up to four years as a punishment.
The protest rally outside the National Library on February 8, which forced President Saakashvili to change the venue of his address to the nation, was prevailed by chaotic scenes and scuffles; the major incident erupted when Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava and a group of lawmakers from President Saakashvili’s UNM party arrived on the scene. Ugulava, shouting at the angry crowd “stage the show”, tried to make his way towards the library where the President was planning his speech; Ugulava and his companions, however, were prevented by protesters who confronted UNM senior figures; several UNM MPs were attacked, including MP Sergo Ratiani; another lawmaker Chiora Taktakishvili suffered a bloody nose after being punched by one of the protesters, who was arrested next day. Another man, suspected of assaulting MP Ratiani, has also been arrested.
Interior Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, said at the time that Gigi Ugulava and UNM lawmakers acted “as the group of professional instigators”, who deliberately provoked protesters; the Interior Ministry claimed that it offered the President and UNM two alternative routes secured by the police for a safe entry into the library, but Ugulava and UNM lawmakers decided to enter into the building from the direction where protesters were mobilized.
Speaking with a group of Tbilisi-based foreign diplomats on February 11, Interior Minister Garibashvili said that Ugulava’s refusal to appear before investigators was actually refusal to cooperate with the investigation. Garibashvili said that Ugulava’s proposal for investigators themselves to arrive at his office was unacceptable and an attempt to undermine the state institutions.
“Everyone is equal before the law and there will be no class of untouchables in Georgia,” the Interior Minister said.
In a written statement on Monday, Gigi Ugulava says that no coercive measures can be applied against him, because he is not saying no to being questioned.
“I am not saying no to testify. I am saying no to appear in the police and by doing so I am first and foremost I am defending dignity of the police and investigators, because I do not want them to become instrument of struggle against the opposition in the hands of Ivanishvili and Garibashvili,” Ugulava said.