Interior Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, who was summoned by the UNM lawmakers in the Parliament, faced questions from opposition MPs for two hours on March 18.
In his opening remarks Garibashvili said that the under the previous government Interior Ministry was “a closed system, which was under the political dictate” and used as a tool for “repressing” political opponents; he said that it was his “unwavering will to make the ministry transparent, open to public scrutiny”.
Garibashvili, 30, who is the youngest cabinet member, also stressed it was the first case in years when the Interior Minister appeared before opposition lawmakers to respond their questions.
Garibashvili said that “crime situation is fully under control” and “there are no signs of deterioration despite of large number of amnestied” inmates.
When UNM lawmaker Giorgi Baramidze, who was interior minister in 2004, asked Garibashvili about increasing sense of concern in the public about crime rate, which, he said, was on the rise, the Interior Minister responded that such concern within the society was natural against the background of mass amnesty in which over 8,300 inmates were released from jails. Garibashvili, however, also said that “groundless” allegations of the UNM about deteriorating crime situation and attempts to deliberately portray situation “in dark colors” was also contributing to such sense in the public.
He said that statistics showed no significant increase in crime rate in recent months and there was no reason for alarm. He then cited some of the data, according to which there were about 3,800 reported crimes in February 2013 against 2,800 and 3,300 in the same period of 2011 and 2012, respectively.
“Nothing out of the ordinary is happening in this regard and I want to call on everyone to refrain from inciting anxiety among the public by making statements which are not based on facts and figures,” Garibashvili said; he also added the methodology which was in use by the ministry for years in crime statistics was flawed and it would soon be changed.
When he was pressed how it happened that some of his relatives took various posts in state agencies, including in the Interior Ministry after he became the minister, Garibashvili responded that nepotism allegations against him were “not serious.” He said that he appointed his father-in-law’s cousin, Zviad Jankarashvili, as head of the ministry’s internal investigations unit not because he was his distant relative, but because “he’s a good manager”, who “does his job well.” Asked whether he thought that this appointment was possibly conflict of interests, Garibashvili responded: “No; I feel no discomfort about it.”
The Interior Minister was pressed on the issue of deputy rector of the police academy, Luka Kurtanidze. The latter was Georgian Dream coalition’s MP candidate for one of the majoritarian single-mandate constituencies in eastern Georgia where he failed to win the race. Kurtanidze, who is also the president of wrestling federation, was embroiled in controversy in January after the vice-president of the same federation accused Kurtanidze of beating him up; investigation is still ongoing into these allegations by the prosecutor’s office. In February there have been calls on the Interior Minister to sack Kurtanidze after he said in a newspaper interview that “scum Saakashvili and his rats” from UNM party would have been “flayed alive if not the generosity and ability to show mercy by Bidzina Ivanishvili.” Garibashvili told UNM lawmakers that he strongly disapproved Kurtanidze’s remarks, but also made it clear that he did not think Kurtanidze should be sacked. Garibashvili said for number of times, as if trying to downplaying Kurtanidze’s role in the police academy, that Kurtanidze was only in charge of directing sport programs and not otherwise involved in the work of the police academy.
While speaking about this issue, Garibashvili also told UNM lawmakers that Kurtanidze was “tortured” by the police under the previous government when protest rally was violently broken up by the riot police on May 26, 2011. During the hearing Garibashvili was often recalling allegations of grave human rights violations by the previous government on which UNM lawmakers were responding that this tactic was used by the Interior Minister for shunning away from concrete questions asked by the opposition parliamentarians.
Garibashvili was also asked about the case of former senior interior ministry official, Tengiz Gunava, who is now governor of Samegrelo region. Gunava was arrested in November and then released on bail on charges related to drugs and illegal possession of firearms; Gunava, who denied charges, claimed that handgun was planted by the police during the arrest. Citing procedural violations during the arrest, the prosecutor’s office dropped these charges from Gunava, but it also said that investigation was not able to either confirm or deny Gunava’s allegation that the handgun was planted. The same position was repeated by Garibashvili, who told UNM lawmakers that he sacked several police officers for violations during the Gunava’s arrest, but it was not possible to substantiate claims that handgun was planted.
There was couple of issues, raised during the hearing, on which the Interior Minister shared UNM’s position and one of them was the issue of amnestied “political prisoners”. Garibashvili reiterated that the Interior Ministry was recommending the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority against including in the list of political prisoners “four or five persons” and said that the list was “hastily” compiled. He made the remarks after he was asked about the release from jail under the amnesty Vahagn Chakhalyan, an activist from Georgia’s predominantly ethnic Armenian populated region. Release of Chakhalyan, who was not included in the list of political prisoners, but freed from jail as a result of broader amnesty, was strongly condemned by President Saakashvili and his UNM party; they claimed that the move was fraught with threat of separatism movement in Javakheti.
The Interior Minister told UNM MPs that “we fully control situation” in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. “I guarantee that he [Chakhalyan] poses no threat,” Garibashvili said. “There is no threat whatsoever.”
Asked about proposals by the Georgian Dream coalition on liberalizing drug laws, Garibashvili said that measure aimed at intensifying drug rehabilitation programs would be welcomed, but the Interior Ministry would be strongly against of drug decriminalization.
“I am against of decriminalization and our ministry would stand firmly on this position, because we think that such move would be encouraging drug use,” Garibashvili said.
At the end of the hearing UNM lawmakers and the Interior Minister again traded mutual accusations over the February 8 incident outside the National Library with Garibashvili reiterating his position that the clash was provoked by UNM MPs and the latter accusing the Interior Minister of a failure to prevent the incident.