Vice-Speaker of Parliament Manana Kobakhidze and chairperson of parliamentary committee for human rights Eka Beselia have been questioned as part of ongoing investigation into alleged influence peddling in the process of inmates’ pardoning, chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze said on Monday.
Former chairman of the presidential pardon commission, Aleko Elisashvili, who is now an independent member of the Tbilisi City Council, claimed last week that “influential politicians” from the GD coalition were trying to exert undue influence on him for the purpose of recommending the preterm release of certain inmates.
Elisashvili, who chaired the commission from November, 2013 before mid-2014, has declined for now to publicly name those “influential politicians”; but names of two senior lawmakers from the GD coalition – Eka Beselia and Manana Kobakhidze – have emerged in the Georgian press recently.
The Georgian weekly newspaper, Kviris Palitra, reported on Monday that MPs Beselia and Kobakhidze were “persistently” asking for making progress in pardoning of one of the five convicts, who are serving lengthy prison terms for the 2010 case involving what the Interior Ministry at the time said was trafficking of large amount of cocaine. Convicts in question were not given pardon as they were failing to meet eligibility criteria.
“I neither confirm nor deny that it was about the cocaine case,” Elisashvili told journalists on December 14 before appearing for second time before prosecutors to give additional testimony.
Elisashvili again reiterated his allegation that USD 200,000 was paid in advance as a bribe to politicians in question in exchange for lobbying to grant the pardon to specific inmates. He also said that he brought before investigators his cell phone, where “hysterical messages” from politicians in question are stored.
Both MP Beselia and MP Kobakhidze have denied allegations of exerting undue pressure on the presidential pardon commission as “dirty campaign” and “political adventurism” ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. They did not elaborate who was behind this alleged campaign against them.
MP Kobakhidze, however, did confirm showing interest to the “cocaine case” convicts as she was their defense lawyer during the trial five years ago. She said that she believed and still believes that the case was “fabricated”.
“They [convicts] were asking for pardon and they also appealed to me in my capacity of their former defense lawyer… I appealed to the President, as well as to the pardon commission… As a member of parliament it’s my duty to react on any appeal from inmates related to their rights,” MP Kobakhidze said.
She also confirmed asking then chairman of the pardon commission for this application for pardon of “cocaine case” convicts “not to be shelved.”
“I had a legitimate right to inquire about proceeding [of the application],” she said.
“I have never sent a message containing threat, intimidation, and pressure, either to Elisashvili or someone else,” MP Kobakhidze said.
“I think this is a well-planned dirty campaign personally against me and possibly against some others,” she said. “There will be more such mudslinging as the elections are approaching.”
MP Eka Beselia also denied allegations and said that she has “enough patience, experience, endurance and professional skills” to follow this case to the end.
“Let the public then judge where the truth is and assess what kind of political process or adventurism is being stirred at the start of this pre-election campaign,” MP Beselia said.
Both Kobakhidze and Beselia said that they appeared before prosecutors upon their own initiative to provide them with all the relevant information.
“Objective investigation is first of all in our interest,” MP Beselia said.
Chief prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze, told journalists on December 14 that the two lawmakers were questioned.
“I can confirm that MPs Manana Kobakhidze and Eka Beselia have been questioned by the investigation along with about 20 other witnesses,” he said.
“Number of investigative measures has yet to be undertaken and after completion of this process we will provide detailed information to the public,” Shotadze added.