Commenting on U.S. Department of State’s statement expressing concern over decision to summon ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili for questioning, Georgian government officials said that they perceived the statement as an “advice” from a partner state to observe due process and some senior lawmakers from the Georgian Dream ruling coalition said there is “nothing alarming” and there is no need to “dramatize” the situation.
The U.S. Department of State said that “no one is above the law, but launching multiple simultaneous investigations involving a former President raises legitimate concerns about political retribution, particularly when legal and judicial institutions are still fragile” in Georgia.
“We consider it as an advice,” Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze said. “It [the statement] says that no one is above the law, but we should show caution because our law enforcement agencies are still fragile. I think, just this is the cornerstone of this statement.”
“Of course, it is understandable because it is very well known in the United States how weak the Georgian law enforcement agencies were; how weak the judiciary was, which was delivering guilty verdicts in almost 99% of cases. It [the statement] emphasizes that everything should be done in a fair way, transparently, within the rule of law, and this is just what we should guarantee and we are guarantying it to our foreign partners. Most important is how the process will proceed. Nobody rejects that questions should be answered and if ex-President of Georgia has the answers to these questions, as the prosecutors believe, he should answer those questions, which cannot be answered by anyone else,” the Georgian Foreign Minister said.
Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, said that Saakashvili has been summoned as a witness. “Not a single citizen in any country is protected from not being summoned as a witness to a criminal case. That’s how it is in any country and the same is in our country,” she said.
GD lawmaker, Irakli Sesiashvili, who chairs parliamentary committee for defense and security said: “Their concern is mostly of pro-active nature in order to reassure that process is really transparent in our country.”
“There is nothing alarming,” MP Sesiashvili said “The former president, who is today an ordinary citizen, is summoned for questioning as a witness and these are those high-profile cases, which the U.S. and the EU have been calling for being investigated. The U.S. and EU have also expressed concern when Merabishvili was arrested, but after the court proceedings and after seeing that everything was held transparently and that the court delivered verdict objectively without any external interference, no one expressed complaint about it.”
“Let’s do not dramatize it,” said GD MP Tedo Japaridze, who chairs parliamentary committee for foreign affairs. “There were many presidents around the world, who have been questioned… It’s not about arresting someone; prosecutors simply have questions on which they want to get answers from Mr. Saakashvili.”
“These are not questions which only prosecutors have or which have emerged just now; these are the questions, which the public had towards him when Saakashvili was the President. Our partners are listening to us carefully and I think we will have very healthy consultations with them, including on this issue,” MP Gia Volski, chairman of Georgian Dream faction in the parliament, said. “There are questions [towards Saakashvili] and these questions have to be definitely answered… It has of course to be done in a form that is in line with key requirements of the civilized world – that is maximum of transparency, in observance of the law, and it should be free from any political [motivation].”
“No one has indulgence of not appearing for questioning and not answering prosecutors’ questions, if these [questions] are legitimate. I hope that prosecutor’s office will carry out this process completely transparently and no one will have extra questions about selective justice,” GD MP Victor Dolidze, chairman of the parliamentary committee for European integration, said. “No one is above the law. No one has the right to avoid answering questions if there are any whether it is president or any other official – incumbent or former.”
“This statement is perceived by us as a feedback, advice from our partner and friend, the United States. We agree, as [the statement] mentions, that the rule of law should be observed and that no one is above the law,” Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Jalagania said.
He said that “from outside” the high number of criminal cases over which prosecutors seek to question Saakashvili “may really look as intense and striking, but as you are aware there is a high interest in the public and if legitimate questions exist in frames of these ongoing investigations, no matter who might be involved, perhaps answers should be given.”
“Certainly it should happen in line with rule of law, transparently; the authorities have never had problems in this respect with our partners; this dialogue is carried out on the permanent basis and I am sure that our colleagues and partners will be informed and gradually these questions will not be left unanswered,” Jalagania said.
In an interview with the Georgian daily, Kviris Palitra, recorded after prosecutor’s office summoned Saakashvili and before the U.S. Department of State released its statement, PM Irakli Garibashvili said that he’s “not afraid” of “speculation and questions” that the decision of prosecutor’s office may trigger.
“If investigation has questions to the President, Prime Minister, or any other high-ranking official, they should answer comprehensively to these questions. I do not see anything unusual about it,” Garibashvili said.
“Of course Saakashvili will maximally try to use lobbyist companies and create misperception in the United States and Europe as if he is summoned for questioning in connection to politically motivated cases. But strong truth is on our side and we are not afraid of any question. I will be attending the nuclear summit [in The Hague] on March 24, where the world leaders and media will be present too, so if I am asked I will personally respond in order to put an end to interpretations that may come from Saakashvili and his lobbyist companies. We are not afraid of that,” the PM said.
“Saakashvili is obliged to arrive, because he was the president of this country for nine years and prosecutor’s office has questions towards him in connection to multiple grave cases. If Saakashvili does not arrive, prosecutor’s office will act in accordance to the law, he will be declared wanted,” Garibashvili said.
“Saakashvili is a key witness and many things were happening with blessing and signature exactly from him. If Saakashvili does not arrive he will put himself in a difficult situation and it will trigger even more questions,” Garibashvili said.
Saakashvili said his summoning by Georgian prosecutors for questioning is part of “Ivanishvili-Putin game” and he’s not going to make “Putin’s dreams come true” by arriving in Tbilisi for interrogation.