Former interior minister Vano Merabishvili’s claim that he was taken out of his prison cell and driven for a meeting with chief prosecutor is “utterly false”, minister in charge of the penitentiary system, Sozar Subari, said on December 18.
Merabishvili, who is now in pre-trial detention, said at a court hearing in Kutaisi on December 17 that chief prosecutor, Otar Partskhaladze, told him to help solve the case of death of PM Zurab Zhvania and to provide information about ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s “bank accounts”, otherwise threatened with deterioration of his condition in prison and with the arrest of his friends and relatives. Merabishvili said that at about 1:30am on December 14 he was taken out of his prison cell with his head shrouded in his jacket and driven to a location, which he thinks was the office of department of penitentiary system, where the meeting with the chief prosecutor took place.
“Vano Merabishvili was not taken out [of prison],” Subari said, adding that over the weekend he met for several times with his lawyers and he would have announced about his claims much earlier if he had really been taken out of his prison cell.
UNM opposition party in which Merabishvili formally retains the post of secretary general has called on the authorities to launch the investigation into Merabishvili’s claims and the latter’s lawyers have requested the authorities to make available recordings of the prison surveillance cameras. There have also been calls for a probe from number of rights groups. UNM is also calling for setting up of a parliamentary ad hoc commission to probe into the case.
Although several of senior lawmakers from the GD parliamentary majority group, as well as Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said that they are absolutely sure that Merabishvili’s claims are “false”, the probe should anyway be carried out.
But minister for penitentiary system, Sozar Subari, suggested that no probe was needed because the allegation itself was “unserious.”
“No investigation is being launched into unserious issue,” he said and on a question about recordings from the surveillance cameras added: “If the investigation is opened, [investigators] will gain [access to] the recording, otherwise no one has the right to [review] recordings.”
UNM party said on December 18 that Subari’s remarks suggest that the authorities do not intend to investigate the case and instead decided “to go down the path of covering up the crime collectively.”
UNM lawmaker Irma Nadirashvili alleged on December 18 that the authorities had already “deleted” recordings from the surveillance cameras in an attempt to cover up their wrongdoing.
PM Garibashvili said on December 18 that Merabishvili’s allegations aim at “discrediting” the government. He then again reiterated his December 17 remarks and said that Merabishvili apparently “panicked” after the arrest of Koba Kharshiladze. This latter was arrested on December 16 and charged with illegal entrepreneurship and money laundering while serving as deputy head of one of the Tbilisi’s districts. Kharshiladze was chief bodyguard of PM Zurab Zhvania at the time when the latter was found dead in February, 2005. Arrest of Kharshiladze, although in connection to the case which has nothing to do with Zhvania’s case, triggered speculation that it might be somehow related to the ongoing investigation into Zhvania’s death, which was re-opened after the Georgian Dream came into power late last year.
“We have no time for and we cannot afford reacting on Merabishvili’s allegations and suspending ministers and prosecutors from their offices upon [Merabishvili’s] allegations. We have more important work to do,” Garibashvili said.