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Officials Rule out Foul Play, Ask FBI for Forensic Assistance
/ 4 Feb.'05 / 16:35
Civil Georgia

The Government claims no changes are anticipated
in Georgia’s policy following Zhvania’s death.

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and General Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili denied rumors involving conspiracy theories behind the death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and reiterated earlier official statements that the death of the Prime Minister was a tragic “tragic accident” caused by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Chief of the State Forensic Examinations Department of the Georgian Justice Ministry Levan Samkharauli officially confirmed, on February 4, that Zurab Zhvania and Raul Usupov, who was about to take over the Kvemo Kartli region’s Deputy Governor’s position, died as a result of CO poisoning.

“The contents of carboxihemoglobin [COHb] in the blood of Zurab Zhvania amounted to 60,6%, while in the blood of Raul Usupov – 73,9%. Hence, now we can say for sure that the death was a result of CO poisoning. But as the case involves high-level official we deemed it necessary to carry out further examinations, which will take 10 more days,” Levan Samkharauli said at a news conference. He did not answer reporters’ questions.

The signs and symptoms of CO poisoning appear when COHb concentrations exceed 10%.

In an attempt to defuse all suspicions regarding the accident the Georgian General Prosecutor’s Office reported on February 4 that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will provide forensic expertise to the investigation.

“The materials for expertise have already been sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, however we do not know when the results will be ready,” Spokesperson for the General Prosecutor’s Office Khatuna Tskhvedadze told Civil Georgia on February 4.

Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman of the U.S. Department of State, said at a news briefing on February 3, while answering question whether the U.S. believes that Zhvania’s death was an accident, that “the Georgians are investigating the incident; however, all the indications at this point are that it was exactly that: a tragic accident.”

Both, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and the General Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili met with a group of Georgian reporters on February 3 and showed a short video tape depicting the apartment where the dead bodies of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and Raul Usupov were found.

Footage was demonstrated only for journalists. Cameramen were denied attendance to this meeting. The footage, which runs approximately one minute, was recorded shortly after the corpses of the two men were found.

The footage shows Zurab Zhvania’s corpse lying on the floor on his back near the armchair. Officials explained that Zhvania was removed from the armchair by his bodyguard, who was the first to find the corpses, in an attempt to provide artificial respiration. Raul Usupov’s body was also lying on the floor near the door which divides the room where Zhvania’s body was lying and the kitchen.

There were a couple of plates, food and an opened backgammon board on the table.

General Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili said that a forensic examination of the food was also underway; however, he said that the experts are already almost sure that the deaths were a result of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater. An Iranian-made heating device was installed in the apartment, which Raul Usupov was renting in the Saburtalo district of the capital, Tbilisi, just two days before the accident.

Meanwhile, President Saakashvili, who announced on February 3 that he will assume Prime Minister’s duties, is required by law to nominate a new candidate for the position by February 10. Some Georgian media outlets are already speculating about possible PM candidates.

According to the Georgian daily Rezonansi (Resonance), as it is almost impossible to find a proper replacement of Zhvania, it is likely that President Saakashvili will nominate a person who will be the Prime Minister for an interim period.

“Consideration over who will replace Zurab Zhvania started a few hours after the Prime minister’s death. Several possible candidates are being named. Among them are: Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, Vice-Premier Giorgi Baramidze, State Minister for Economic Reform Issues Kakha Bendukidze and Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze,” the paper reads.

According to Rezonansi, some political analysts suggest that at the initial stage, the new Prime Minister might be a person who was a close ally of Zhvania, but this person will be inevitably be replaced after several months.  

No Change in Policy

The Georgian Defense, Interior, Foreign Minister as well as the State Minister for Economic Reform Issues made separate statements at a news conference on February 3 to reaffirm that the Georgian government continues performing its duties “in a normal regime” and that there will be no change in the country policy after the death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.

State Minister for Economic Reforms Kakha Bendukidze said that the Georgian government remains committed to its economic policy, which was being carried out by Zurab Zhvania.

“I was entitled by the President and the government to announce that the economic policy which was being carried out by the government with the leadership of Mr. Zurab Zhvania will continue. All those privatization deals and negotiations, all the planned privatizations, which were announced by the Georgian government and [all privatizations] which were accomplished by the Georgian government, will continue in a usual regime. All the agreements which were signed will be implemented. All the plans regarding further liberalization of the economy will be carried out,” Kakha Bendukidze stated at a news conference.

“The Interior Ministry continues its work in a usual manner. We fully control the situation in the country… We are also continuing out investigation of the Gori blast [on February 1, which killed three and injured 27 persons]. I want to tell you that the overall situation in the country is stable,” Vano Merabishvili, the Interior Minister said at a news conference.

“All reforms and changes in the army are being carryed out as it was envisages by the government… We continue our daily routine activities in a usual regime,” Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said.

Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili said that the Foreign Ministry also continues working “in a normal regime.” She said that Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Gomiashvili held important meetings in Vienna at the session of the OSCE Permanent Council, as well as with the representatives of the European Union, “and discussed the issue of replacing the [OSCE] BMO [Border Monitoring Operation at the Russo-Georgian border]” by other international observers.

She also said that the Foreign Ministry is working to prepare for visits from official delegations from the foreign countries, which will attend the funeral of Zurab Zhvania, scheduled for February 6.

“It is already known that Azerbaijani Premier and World Bank President [James Wolfensohn] will be in attendance,” Salome Zourabichvili said.

She also said that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has personally phoned President Saakashvili to express her condolences over Zurab Zhvania’s death.

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