Several human rights and advocacy groups have cast doubts over legality of the Finance Ministry’s investigations service’s actions when it briefly detained 23 officials from the Tbilisi city municipality on the morning of June 27.
23 officials were detained by the financial police almost simultaneously in various locations of the capital city early on June 27; all of them, two of which were UNM members of Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo) and two deputies of the Tbilisi mayor, were released by the noon on the same day. Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, and other senior figures from the UNM party said early on June 27 that the government apparently decided to release detainees in order to avoid a scandal while a high-level NATO delegation, including its Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was visiting Georgia.
Finance Ministry’s investigations service, however, claimed that 23 officials were not detained, but “summoned” for questioning and then released. But those who were detained say that they were handcuffed and were told that they were arrested, but then were released without being charged or even interrogated. They said that their questioning was a mere formality and were only asked about the place of their employment; some others say that they were released not only without being questioned, but without even being taken to the financial police headquarters. Late on June 27 four out of those 23 officials, including deputy mayor, were again arrested in connection to ongoing investigation into alleged embezzlement and misspending of GEL 48.9 million of public money.
Public Defender’s Office said in a statement on June 28 that it was studying the case of brief detention of 23 officials from the Tbilisi municipality.
“Finance Ministry’s investigations service states that employees of the local self-governance body were questioned as witnesses; hence the Public Defender has legitimate questions: why these individuals were not summoned for questioning in line with the code of the criminal procedure; why relevant notification has not been made on summoning to the investigations service; why they were not read their rights as witnesses; why they were handcuffed and if there was a need to apply coercive measure to bring witness [before investigators] was there a relevant court warrant,” the Public Defender’s Office said in a statement.
Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, told journalists on June 28 that even without further probe it “is very obvious for me that the way how these people were detained represents infringement of human dignity.”
In a joint statement on this case, three watchdog groups – Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA); Transparency International Georgia and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), said that there probably were violations, which cast a shadow over the entire investigation process.
“We want to remind the Finance Ministry’s investigations service that under the criminal procedure code, the measures of freedom restriction and applying coercive measures can only be used in extreme cases. The procedural code unambiguously prohibits taking a person by force [before investigators] when a person has not been given an opportunity to appear before the investigative agency voluntarily. Not only the procedural measures of unexpected nature – when a person does not know what the investigative unit wants from this person and why coercive measures are applied – violate the requirements of criminal procedure code, but they also question the legitimate interests of conducting impartial and objective investigation into the case as well as the possibility of proper exercise of the right to fair trial in future,” the statement reads.
“We call on all the law enforcement agencies to refrain from violating the requirements of the criminal procedure code in the future, on the one hand, and to investigate the mentioned facts impartially and effectively, on the other,” the statement reads.