Prosecutor’s office said on November 27 that it is filing criminal charges against ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, accusing him of conspiring with other former senior officials to obstruct justice in high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani in 2006.
Prosecutor’s office said that “fabricating of investigation, covering up of involvement of [then] senior officials in the crime to prevent their prosecution was carried out through concerted and coordinated criminal plot” by then president Saakashvili; interior minister Vano Merabishvili; then head of the prison system Bacho Akhalaia; then head of the interior ministry’s constitutional security department and leadership of the prosecutor’s office.
Prosecutor’s office said that investigation is carried out under the article 332 of criminal code, involving abuse of power committed by a holder of the political office.
This is the latest in series of criminal charges filed against Georgia’s former president since late July, which Saakashvili denies as politically motivated.
In October, 2014 Tbilisi City Court found ex-interior minister Vano Merabishvili guilty of abuse of power in a trial in which he was facing prosecution for covering up evidence to obstruct establishment of truth into the high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani in 2006.
Since 2006 the Girgvliani case has been reemerging frequently in country’s political life, because of persisting allegations that the official investigation at the time covered up possible links of Interior Ministry senior officials, as well as of wife of then Interior Minister to this murder case. According to these allegations the perpetrators acted on orders given by their superiors from the Interior Ministry who were present in a café in downtown Tbilisi, where the victim, shortly before being abducted, insulted one of the officials present in the café together with Merabishvili’s wife Tako Salakaia.
The murder case came into the public spotlight in mid-February, 2006 after the Imedi TV reported about it, suggesting that senior Interior Ministry officials and the minister’s wife could have been involved.
Four officers from the Interior Ministry’s department for constitutional security were arrested on March 6, 2006, who were subsequently found guilty of inflicting bodily injuries that resulted into Girgvliani’s death and sentenced to imprisonment; but their prison terms were halved as a result of the presidential pardon and consequently a pre-term release mechanism was applied to them through which the four former officers were released in September, 2009.
The prosecution now claims that presidential pardon was part of a deal with convicted four former officers in exchange of keeping silence over actual events of the case. Prosecution says that convicts were also paid USD 100,000 as an inducement as part of this deal, and in addition their imprisonment was a mere formality as they received privileged treatment.
In October, 2014 Bacho Akhalaia, who in 2006 was prison system chief, was found guilty of power abuse in case over his alleged role in providing privileged conditions in prison to four former interior ministry officers.
The Girgvliani family, which has been campaigning tirelessly throughout these years insisting that the murder was coordinated with other senior officials from the Interior Ministry, took the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which delivered its verdict in April, 2011.
ECHR found that the official investigation into the case “manifestly lacked” independence. It said that ECHR “is struck by how the different branches of State power – the Ministry of the Interior, as regards the initial shortcomings of the investigation, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, as regards the remaining omissions of the investigation, the Prisons Department, as regards the unlawful placement of the convicts in the same cell, the domestic courts, as regards the deficient trial and the convicts’ early release, the President of Georgia, as regards the unreasonable leniency towards the convicts, and so on – all acted in concert in preventing justice from being done in this gruesome homicide case.”
When in February, 2013 Saakashvili was asked why he pardoned four convicts into the Girgvliani case, then president responded that the Girgvliani murder case was “a black mark” of his presidency not because he was somehow personally involved, but simply because it happened during his presidency. Saakashvili also said at the time that if complaints persisted about his decision to pardon those convicted for this murder case, he was ready “to share responsibility for this too.” He also said that he would only welcome if the “biased investigation”, which was at the time ongoing, “reveals something new”.