A former warlord, Emzar Kvitsiani, who was sentenced to 12 years in jail for forming illegal armed group and mutiny, has been released after court of appeals in Kutaisi approved a plea bargain deal between him and the prosecution on January 28.
Kvitsiani, who was in charge of Kodori gorge in breakaway Abkhazia before being ousted from there by government forces in 2006 after he declared defiance to the authorities in Tbilisi, was arrested in February, 2014 upon arrival to Tbilisi from Moscow. Prosecutors said at the time that Kvitsiani had to return to Georgia after Russia “deported” him.
Prosecution continued to press charges, brought against Kvitsiani by the previous authorities, and in November, 2014 he was found by court in the town of Zugdidi guilty of mutiny and forming illegal armed group. Kvitsiani pleaded not guilty and appealed the verdict to the Court of Appeals in Kutaisi.
Ahead of the launch of appeal proceedings in court, it was reported last week by Kvitsiani’s defense lawyers that an agreement on plea deal was reached.
Under the deal charges against Kvitsiani have not been dropped, but his prison sentence was cut to only 11 months – a period, which he had already served since his detention in February, 2014.
Court of Appeals in Kutaisi said that the prosecution filed a motion for a plea deal on sentencing. “The court considered the motion and found Kvitsiani guilty of charges filed against him without adjudicating the case on its merits… and sentenced him to 11 months in prison,” which had already been served at the time of approving the plea deal, the Court of Appeals in Kutaisi said.
“I agreed on the plea bargain deal because I would not have proven my truth in today’s court,” Kvitsiani told journalists after he was released from courtroom.
Before the 2008 August war, upper part of Kodori gorge was the only area in breakaway Abkhazia under Tbilisi’s control. The Monadire (Hunter) paramilitary group was formed by the local Georgian residents after the armed conflict broke out in Abkhazia in 1992 to protect the gorge from potential Abkhaz offensive. The group was in charge of the gorge and central government’s authority was nominal over Kodori. It, however, changed in summer 2006. On July 22, 2006 Kvitsiani, who was head of the Monadire paramilitary group, refused to disarm his group and announced defiance to the Georgian central authorities, which responded by sending troops to Kodori, forcing Kvitsiani to flee.
When it first emerged that the prosecution was planning a plea deal with Kvitsiani that would have seen him released from prison, some of the senior lawmakers from the Georgian Dream ruling coalition welcomed the move.
“A very biased verdict was delivered against him,” GD parliamentary majority leader, MP Davit Saganelidze, said on January 26 referring to Kvitsiani’s sentencing to 12 years in jail. “He may have done some mistakes, excesses, but I have no doubt that he loves his country.”
Kvitsiani’s release has been condemned by UNM opposition party, which was in government when he declared defiance to the central authorities.
“This deal was apparently made in order to use him [Kvitsiani] against political opponents; they [the authorities] think that they will frighten us with persons like [Kvitsiani],” MP Mikheil Machavariani of the opposition UNM party said. “This [release of Kvitsiani] was a political decision made at the level of [ex-PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili and [PM Irakli] Garibashvili.”
“Release of Kvitsiani, who openly took arms against the Georgian state and staged the mutiny and who at first found shelter with [Russia’s] puppet regime in Sokhumi and then among our enemies in Russia, is yet another serious step taken by [ex-PM] Ivanishvili for destabilization of the country, undermining of security, and destruction of country’s pillars,” Giga Bokeria of UNM said.