Jury in trial against two bodyguards of late PM Zurab Zhvania found Koba Kharshiladze and Mikheil Dzadzamia guilty of neglect of official duties on the night when Zhvania was found dead more than ten years ago.
In the first three hours of deliberation 12 jurors failed to reach unanimous decision, as a result a majority verdict of 10-2 was taken on Friday evening.
After jurors recommended lenient sentence for the both men, the judge ordered eight months and 23 days in prison for Dzadzamia, which actually resulted into his immediate release because he had already spent this term while in pre-trial detention before being released on bail. In case of Kharshiladze, judge ordered 1 year and 9 months of prison term, which became largely absorbed by his already serving jail term in connection to separate, unrelated case, and as a result he will be released from prison in December.
Zhvania and Raul Usupov, deputy governor of Kvemo Kartli region, were found dead in a home on the first floor of an apartment building in Saburtalo district of Tbilisi. In February, 2005 official investigation attributed death of the two men to carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by an improperly installed gas heater. The investigation into the case was resumed in late 2012 after the Georgian Dream coalition came into power.
Although renewed investigation has so far failed to produce any finding that would either confirm or deny results of initial probe, last March prosecutors initiated two separate cases – one against ex-chief forensic pathologist, Levan Chachua, who performed autopsy on late PM Zurab Zhvania, and another one against Zhvania’s bodyguards. Chachua was charged with neglect of official duties; prosecution claimed that he failed to carry out thorough post-mortem examination of the late prime minister’s body. Chachua was acquitted by the Tbilisi City Court this March.
In the separate case of Zhvania’s bodyguards, prosecution was insisting that Kharshiladze and Dzadzamia did not follow standard procedures of the security detail and left Zhvania without protection overnight on February 3, 2005, when the former PM died. Prosecution also claimed that contrary to standard procedures defendants did not notify security planning and operation command unit about route of late PM’s movement on that night.
At the time Kharshiladze was Zhvania’s chief bodyguard and Dzadzamia was in charge of security detail of the PM on the night when the latter was found dead.
The defense argued that Kharshiladze and Dzadzamia were acting upon Zhvania’s instructions. During the trial former bodyguards told the court that Zhvania was renting homes for secret meetings both for private and business matters and was usually requesting for a complete privacy, asking his security detail to leave him and not to be present even outside home and not to report about his location to superiors. Dzadzamia told the court that while going to such secret meetings, Zhvania was using fake beards to conceal his identity.
Defendants said that the same happened on the night of Zhvania’s death. According to Dzadzamia he drove Zhvania to the home in Saburtalo and left the area after Usupov arrived. Hours later when Zhvania was not responding to his phone calls, Dzadzamia said, he notified chief of the PM’s security guard, Kharshiladze. The latter told the court that he arrived at the scene and entered into the home from a window.
The both, Kharshiladze and Dzadzamia, have acknowledged that after entering into home they tampered with the original scene which was at the time there.
According to defendants they found naked dead bodies of Zhvania and Usupov, but decided to dress them. Defendants suggested that they wanted to arrange the scene in a way that would not have revealed that the two men were having sex. “We took this responsibility and we did it in order to keep his [Zhvania’s] name clean,” Dzadzamia said.
Defendants told the court that they even brought Usupov’s body out of the home into the car, but returned the body back to the home after realizing that it was, as Kharshiladze put it, an “absurd”.
Dzadzamia told the court that he’s confident there was no foul play in Zhvania’s death and he would not have prevented PM’s death from carbon monoxide poisoning even if he stayed outside the home that night. Kharshiladze said in his closing statement that he and Dzadzamia became “victims of circumstance.” The defense argued that the two bodyguards were following Zhvania’s instructions and they should not be held responsible for that.
Zhvania’s bother, Giorgi Zhvania, who is a lawmaker from GD ruling coalition and who was present in the courtroom on Friday, welcomed the guilty verdict.
MP Zhvania, who believes that his brother was killed, told journalists without elaborating details that the investigation into the “major” issue, involving circumstances of the late PM’s death, is progressing.