Prosecutor’s office said on March 20 “intensive” investigation is ongoing into death of PM Zurab Zhvania in 2005 with investigators looking into those details, which, it said, were left “unstudied” by the previous authorities.
The statement was made in response to leaked photos of what appears to be taken during a post-mortem examination of Zhvania’s body; photos were uploaded on March 19 on YouTube by an anonymous user. Photos purportedly show, what some, among them PM Irakli Garibashvili, termed as bodily “injuries”.
Leakage of photos from investigative files was condemned by UNM lawmakers as yet another attempt by the government to use Zhvania’s death for political purposes. They said that the authorities resort to “dirty political speculation” by leaking materials, which are available for the investigation for a long time already; the opposition has also suggested that the authorities stir such fuss every time the government wants to divert attention from its own political woes.
Prosecutor’s office said in its statement that leakage of these photos damages ongoing investigation and “complicates obtaining evidence related to the case.”
In February, 2005 official investigation attributed death of Zurab Zhvania to carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater. According to this version the heater was improperly installed in the apartment where Zhvania's body was reportedly found in early hours of February 3, 2005 in the Saburtalo district of Tbilisi. Along with Zhvania, deputy governor of Kvemo Kartli region Raul Usupov was also found dead in the same apartment, allegedly also killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. The investigation into the case was resumed in late 2012 after the Georgian Dream coalition came into power.
“Investigation into the death of Zhvania and Usupov is carried out intensively. There is a whole set of details which were left unstudied by investigation in previous years and efforts of the prosecutor’s office are directed towards answering all the existing questions,” prosecutor’s office said in the statement.
Prosecutor’s office said that there is a need for exhumation of bodies of Zhvania and Usupov because examinations carried out immediately after their death were “inconclusive” and do not address “physical injuries” on the two men’s bodies. It said that prosecutor’s office have been in talks with “authoritative” foreign forensic labs for months already to involve their experts in the process.
Issue of possible exhumation is not a new development. Such a possibility was raised by prosecutor’s office for number of times last year and PM Garibashvili spoke about it in January, 2014 saying that the authorities wanted to invite one of the “Swiss laboratories” in the examination.
Prosecutor’s office also said that it will look into how the photos were leaked; in the statement it also noted that after the change of government following the 2012 parliamentary elections video and photo images related to the Zhvania’s case were found stored in a safe in the office of then chief prosecutor, Murtaz Zodelava, separately from rest of the investigative files, “which causes many questions.”
Zodelava was summoned to the prosecutor’s office for questioning on March 20. He told journalists after arriving at the prosecutor’s office that the case involved certain “delicate” aspects and those materials were stored in “the most protected place” – in the safe of chief prosecutor. Those materials, he said, were handed over to a new chief prosecutor when he was replaced following the 2012 parliamentary elections. He said it is “absurd” to claim that the previous authorities possessed evidence questioning official version of Zhvania’s death. Zodelava said that if these materials contained something that he or the previous authorities wanted to hide, he would not have handed them over to the new authorities.
Before prosecutor’s office released its statement, PM Garibashvili commented on leaked photos at a government session on Thursday morning, saying that images were “shocking”.
PM Garibashvili claimed that photos show “serious injuries on [Zhvania’s] head” and added that according to information available to him these injuries were sustained before the death.
“I think many things will be sped up after these images were disseminated,” Garibashvili said. “I hope that the prosecutor’s office will continue intensive investigation and light will be shed soon for everyone on what has happened.”
“I think that there is no need for extra speculation about this case. Prosecutor’s office has its action plan and I hope very much that they will conclude investigation very soon,” Garibashvili said. “So let’s wait; I hope we will learn the truth very soon about how Zurab Zhvania and Raul Usupov died.”
Commenting on leaked photos, President Margvelashvili said: “Public interest is in conclusion of the investigation and not in seeing disturbing images.”
“I know that the investigation is ongoing and I hope that it will be concluded as soon as possible,” he added.
Former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now in Brussels to participate in summit of the European Peoples’ Party as chairman of the United National Movement, said when asked if he would arrive in Georgia if summoned for questioning by prosecutors: “I am not participating in dirty intrigues.”
“If someone tries it everyone will be held responsible accordingly,” he said. “Everyone knows everything very well, including on the international arena… Everything is clarified.”
Speaking with Georgian journalists in Brussels, Saakashvili also said that pursuing “petty, spiteful” political goals in the face of external threats that Georgia is now facing would bring nothing good to the country. “Let them make public entire case… including all the photos; let them make this case public. After that the government will have to apologize before Zhvania’s wife and Zhvania’s family and the public,” he said.