Georgian prosecutor’s office said on July 24 it “reached an agreement” with a group of “internationally renowned” criminal law experts to set up a “consultative group” to assist Georgian prosecutors with advice in handling high-profile cases, among them against “high-ranking officials.”
The move, combined with recent interrogations of former employees of the Special State Protection Service, has fueled speculation in Georgia that the prosecutor’s office might be building a criminal case against ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
The group, according to the prosecutor’s office will consist of British barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice, who led the Hague tribunal prosecution of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević; former Israeli state prosecutor Moshe Lador, who indicted ex-president of Israel Moshe Katzav and former PM Ehud Olmert, and Paul Coffey, former director of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) department of justice and formerly chief of the organized crime and racketeering section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The three men have been holding consultations with the leadership of the Georgian prosecutor’s office over the past two days.
According to the prosecutor’s office, experts were invited to use their experience and recommendations “in certain sensitive cases involving high-ranking public officials in order to meet the highest possible standards of impartiality, fairness, due process, consistency, and transparency.”
Prosecutor’s office has not specified “certain sensitive cases” and has also declined to discuss details of advisory group’s work and its precise role.
“We are here to assist the prosecutor and help the prosecutor evaluate matters that are pending in the prosecutor’s office and lending whatever expertise we have based upon different jurisdictions and approaches, how we address these matters and provide whatever insight we can,” Paul Coffey said in remarks in a video released by the prosecutor’s office on July 24.
“We were asked by Georgian chief prosecutor to come over and try to see whether based on our experience in our different countries we can be of any assistance to the Georgian prosecution in evaluating some of the cases that they are now dealing with. We thank the chief prosecutor for his hospitality and we hope that our discussions yesterday and today will be fruitful in a way that we can assist in this process,” Moshe Lador said.
In a TV interview on July 23, PM Irakli Garibashvili praised the leadership of prosecutor’s office and said: “I think that it is developing in the right direction.”
Asked if inviting of the group of experts was signaling possible launch of criminal prosecution against ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and if he was ruling out such a development, PM Garibashvili told Imedi TV on July 23: “I do not rule out that I will be brought before justice if I commit a crime; everyone should be equal before the law. If we want to establish a real democracy, real rule of law than everyone should be equal before the law.”
“As far as this arrival of highly qualified former prosecutors is concerned… I welcome it. It shows that the prosecutor’s office is committed to increasing prosecutors’ professionalism and to observing international standards in investigating all the sensitive, high-profile cases – this is very important,” Garibashvili said.
When asked again if he rules out bringing criminal charges against ex-president Saakashvili, the PM responded: “It would be wrong if I exclude or not exclude something. It is up to the prosecution to decide; I have no right to indicate to them whom to arrest and whom not to arrest. Prosecutor’s office is completely transparent.”
“We strictly observe due process, rule of law and transparency. Look at the judiciary how independent it has become,” he added.
Prosecutors have interrogated this month Temur Janashia, who was head of the Special State Protection Service (SSPS) under ex-president Saakashvili; some former officers from presidential security service and several employees of SSPS have also been interrogated by prosecutors recently. It remains unclear what was the case over which these interrogations were conducted; the case is classified as secret, according to those who have been questioned by prosecutors. In April, 2013 Georgian Dream parliamentary majority unveiled previously classified spending records from the Special State Protection Service (SSPS), which, GD said, showed misspending of large amount of public funds by Saakashvili.
United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, which is chaired by Saakashvili, said in a statement on July 24, that Saakashvili “seems to be the next target” in the authorities’ campaign of “political persecution against opponents.”
“Recommendations by qualified foreign experts to the current leadership of the prosecutor’s office would only be welcomed if it were not the following alarming factor: the statement by the prosecutor’s office has made it clear that their entire efforts are focused not on struggle against increased crime rate and corruption, but on continuation of political persecution against opponents,” UNM said.
Saakashvili, who left Georgia upon expiration of his second and final presidential term in November 2013, was summoned by prosecutors for questioning as a witness in connection to ongoing investigations in multiple cases; Saakashvili declined to arrive in Georgia and also turned down offer to be questioned via a video link.
Need for enhancing quality of prosecutors’ work and “lack of public trust” in prosecutor’s office were noted in his final report in the capacity of special advisor to Georgia on human rights and legal reforms, Thomas Hammarberg, who said that although “significant improvement have been made in many of the human rights related areas”, challenges remain in reforming and strengthening democratic institutions.
“Lack of accountability of the Prosecutor’s Office remains a problem,” he wrote in his recommendations drawn up following his visit to Georgia in early June. “After separating the office from the Ministry of Justice there is lack of institutional oversight on their performance, which tends to damage the reputation of the whole justice system. The quality of prosecutors’ work needs to be enhanced. In previous years the investigation skills among prosecutors were little developed. Since October 2012 the prosecutor’s office has had different leaders with strong differences in vision and tactics. This has slowed down the institutional strengthening. Lack of public trust in the PO [prosecutor’s office] is a major concern.”