An internal inquiry carried out by the prison system ministry into allegations voiced by ex-interior and former PM Vano Merabishvili, who is now in pretrial detention, failed to clarify the case, on the contrary, it triggered even more questions, a group of human rights, legal advocacy and watchdog organizations said in their joint statement on January 17.
Ministry in charge of penitentiary system said on January 15 that its internal probe found no evidence to substantiate allegations leveled by Merabishvili, who claimed on December 17 that he was unlawfully taken from his prison cell overnight on December 14 for a meeting with then chief prosecutor. The prison system ministry said it studied all the available material, but it was not possible to review footage from prison surveillance cameras because recordings are only stored for twenty four hours and then automatically deleted. Before the ministry announced on December 23 about opening internal probe, prison system minister Sozar Subari said that as far as he was aware recordings of prison surveillance cameras were stored for 10 days.
In their joint statement Georgian Young Lawyers Association; Transparency International Georgia; International Society For Fair Elections and Democracy; Georgian Democracy Initiative; Media Development Foundation; Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center said that “a comprehensive and timely” investigation by the prosecutor’s office should be carried out.
“Results of examination carried out by the general inspectorate of the [prison] ministry triggered additional questions,” reads the statement. “Persisting suspicions were further fueled by contradictory statements of the minister [Sozar Subari] about how long recordings from CCTV cameras, installed in prison and Merabishvili’s cell, are stored.”
The statement calls on the authorities to investigate the case in order to give “comprehensive answers” on persisting “legitimate questions”.
Commenting on Merabishvili’s allegations, PM Irakli Garibashvili said during a press conference on January 16 that it was a “ludicrous story, made up” by the UNM opposition party. He said that Merabishvili allegation that he was “kidnapped” from his prison cell in December for the purpose of exerting pressure on him was “a well-planned, dirty campaign” against then chief prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze.
“No one needs to kidnap him [Merabishvili]; he sits [in prison cell] very well and he will sit there well,” PM Garibashvili said.
“I do not know why questions still remain over this inquiry [by the prison system ministry],” Garibashvili continued. “If someone still has questions they can go and speak with [prison system ministry], which will make a detailed explanation.”
“Personally I have no questions over this issue, I trust Subari’s findings of course and I think that majority in the society has no questions either,” the Prime Minister said.
“They [referring to UNM opposition] have no other issue to talk about and talk only about Merabishvili,” he added.
Garibashvili mentioned UNM at the same news conference when speaking about other topic and said that he’s ready to “accept” criticism when it comes from any “unbiased” persons, “but I do not accept criticism from so called opposition, the United National Movement, whom I do not consider as opponent.”
Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, who met Merabishvili after the latter voiced his allegations, said on January 15 that penitentiary ministry’s internal probe failed to remove all the question marks and called for a thorough investigation by prosecutor’s office.