bne IntelliNews -
The Chief Prosecutor's Office in Georgia has filed criminal charges against former president Mikheil Saakashvili in relation to the high-profile case of the murder of banker Alexandre Girgviliani in 2006, according to a statement released on November 27.
The statement reads that “the crime committed against Alexandre Girgvliani was concealed, the investigation falsified, high officials involved in the crime were covered and diverted from liability in accordance with the criminal plan coordinated and mutually agreed between [then] state authorities and the senior management thereof – Ivane Merabishvili, Minister of Interior; David Akhalaia, head of the Constitutional Security Department; Bachana Akhalaia, Head of the Penitentiary Department; General Prosecutor’s Office; Mikheil Saakashvili, the then President of Georgia". Last October Merabishvili, who is serving a prison term for two other separate charges, was found guilty of abuse of power and covering-up the case, a charge he labelled as “politically motivated”.
The charge of abusing his official authority in the Girgviliani case, which carries a potential sentence of between 3 and 5 years in jail, is the latest in a series of criminal charges filed against Georgia’s former president since late July in what the opposition says is a political witch-hunt by the ex-Soviet republic's new leaders. Dozens of former officials have been arrested since billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili led an opposition coalition, the Georgian Dream, to election victory over Saakashvili's long-ruling party in October 2012. The charges range from abuse of power, corruption, illegal confinement and illegally obtaining personal information.
Girgviliani’s ghost has haunted Saakashvili’s administration since the day the beaten up body of the 28-year-old banker was found in the Okrokana cemetery in a Tbilisi suburb on January 28, 2006, after a quarrel with unidentified interior ministry officials in a bar the night before.
On March 6, 2006 four officers from the Interior Ministry’s department for constitutional security were arrested, found guilty of inflicting bodily injuries that resulted into Girgvliani’s death and sentenced. The prison terms though were halved as a result of the presidential pardon and the officers were released in September 2009.
The banker’s family has been campaigning tirelessly since then, insisting that the murder was coordinated with other senior officials from the Interior Ministry, and they brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. In 2011 the ECHR concluded that the investigation “manifestly lacked independence”.
The case, which the former president reportedly admitted being a “black stain” in his administration, returned under the spotlight in 2012 when Saakashvili's former ruling party, the United National Movement, lost the general election to the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition.
Saakashvili left the South Caucasus country of 4.5 million after his second presidency ended in November 2013. Since then he’s been charged in absentia under three cases: embezzlement of about $5mn of government funds for personal use, abuse of office in ordering the dispersal of an opposition demonstration on November 7, 2007, and the beating of MP Valery Gelashvili in July 2005.
The former president, who was a close ally of the US, said that the governing coalition’s “political revenge” would strain Georgia’s relations with its allies and the legal proceedings against him were aimed at “pleasing Russia” with whom Georgia fought a brief war in 2008.
The current administration claims it does not interfere with the prosecutor’s office, but Western countries have expressed concern that the government has used selective justice and political persecution against opponents in Georgia.
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