Prosecutor’s office said on March 27 that it would offer ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili to conduct questioning via Skype without the need for him to arrive in Tbilisi.
Saakashvili was summoned by prosecutors for questioning as a witness in multiple ongoing criminal investigations; the former president, who left Georgia in November, had to appear before prosecutors on March 27, but he refused.
Such an offer from the prosecutor’s office was expected as earlier on March 27 PM Garibashvili said that a witness should not necessarily be present in prosecutor’s office for questioning and the process can be conducted via video link. The PM also said that he jump to conclusions when he said in a newspaper interview last week that Saakashvili would be put on wanted list in case of his failure to appear before prosecutors.
Saakashvili’s allies from UNM opposition party said earlier on March 27 that the former president should not agree on questioning at all – neither via Skype nor in face-to-face meeting with prosecutors. UNM lawmaker, Zurab Japaridze, dismissed the process as a “circus” orchestrated by ex-chief prosecutor with criminal record Otar Partskhaladze, who, UNM alleges, still remains informally in charge of the prosecutor’s office although he formally stepped down in December.
In an interview with the Rustavi 2 TV, broadcast on March 25, Saakashvili reiterated that he would not arrive in Tbilisi to appear before prosecutors for questioning, citing that the process is politically motivated. He also said that he left Georgia upon EU and U.S. officials’ advice in order to avoid being arrested – a scenario, he said, would have derailed Georgia from its European path.
Prosecutor’s office said in its statement released on Thursday evening that at this stage Saakashvili was summoned for questioning as a witness and not for arresting him.
“In his public remarks the former president spoke about his possible arrest and refraining from arriving [in Georgia] because of that reason. We want to stress that at this stage of investigation Mikheil Saakashvili’s questioning as a witness serves to receiving his explanations for providing comprehensive investigation and not to carrying out criminal prosecution against him or to arresting him,” prosecutor’s office said.
“As far as the cases are concerned, an intensive investigation into these cases is still ongoing and the prosecutor’s office will act appropriately if it is established that a crime was committed by any person,” it said.
“Taking into consideration a huge public importance of the cases under investigation, the interest of international community towards democratic processes ongoing in the country, political status of Mikheil Saakashvili as of the former president and a special importance of testimonies by Saakashvili as of a well-informed witness will have for a successful completion of investigation, the chief prosecutor’s office offers Mikheil Saakashvili a remote interrogation through technical means (for instance, Skype). In this case, he will not have to arrive in Georgia, and consequently, it will rule out any reason for concern over his possible arrest. This proposal will be sent to him as set by the law and he will be given a week to express his position on remote interrogation,” prosecutor’s office said.
Prosecutor’s office summoned Saakashvili on March 22 and listed ten cases over which it is seeking to question the former President; the first in the list is the case related to halving prison term to four convicts in November, 2008 through presidential pardon who were serving sentences in connection to Sandro Girgvliani murder. The list also includes the case of “investigation carried out for the purpose of establishing circumstances surrounding death of PM Zurab Zhvania.”
The U.S. Department of State expressed concern over Georgian authorities’ decision to summon Saakashvili for questioning and said on March 23 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.
Prosecutor’s office said that the case of a presidential pardon was a primary case on which Saakashvili was summoned, but it decided to also notify the former president about having intention to question him into other cases as well in order to avoid need for his summoning for multiple times into all the cases separately.
Two simultaneous rallies – pro- and anti-Saakashvili – were held earlier on March 27 outside the prosecutor’s office, which ended up in clashes and egg-throwing.