Chronicle of a death re-told
Wednesday, 07 November 2012 11:55

IN the early hours of January 28th, 2006, a young banker named Sandro Girgvliani (pictured on a poster of protestors above) went to a Tbilisi cafe to see his girlfriend. She was sitting with a group of senior interior ministry officials, including the minister’s wife. Mr Girgvliani complained that she was out with men he did not know, and was rude about some of them. Thirteen hours later, three friends found his body in a Tbilisi suburb: battered, bruised and stabbed repeatedly.

Demonstrators took to the streets, calling for Vano Merabishvili, then interior minister, to resign. Police charged four officials with a range of offences, including causing death by intentional wounding. The courts convicted them on all counts but one. One man received a seven and a half year sentence; the other three got six and a half years.

The case exposed some of the Georgian justice sector’s shortcomings. In a judgment last year, the European Court of Human Rights found that the investigation was flawed. In a clear conflict of interests, one of the officials in the café supervised both the suspects and the investigators. Allegations about destroyed evidence were ignored. Punishment was inadequate: following a presidential pardon in November 2008, all of the convicted men were free by September 2009. Once the Strasbourg-based court stepped in, the government submitted key evidence late or not at all.

Tea Tsulukiani, the new Georgian justice minister who previously worked as a lawyer at the European court, plans to re-open the case. She also wants to re-examine the 2005 demise of Zurab Zhvania, the former prime minister who supposedly died of carbon monoxide poisoning. (His brother claims that senior government figures colluded in a cover-up

The new government’s parliamentary programme puts forward other plans to strengthen the rule of law. Judges will receive better training. New rules will promote their political independence. Political influence over the prosecutor’s office will diminish. Parliament will be obliged to discuss the recommendations of the country’s ombudsman.  Since the previous government also wanted to increase judicial independence, there is room here for common ground.

Plans to set up an ad hoc parliamentary commission to look into the previous government's "criminal acts" are proving more divisive. The full extent of such acts is hotly contested. One example is the arrest, late on November 6th, of Bacho Akhalaia, the former interior minister (and Saakashvili loyalist) who resigned in the wake of the September prison abuse scandal. He faces charges of abuse of power during an earlier stint as defence minister. The arrest of the Giorgi Kalandze, Georgia’s top soldier,followed on November 7th as part of the same case. The new government says the arrests are part of the normal administration of justice; the United National Movement (UNM), which made up the previous government, calls them "politically motivated".

The proposed commission faces obstacles. For a start, the suggested mandate may be too broad: parliamentary procedures require investigative commissions to have a narrower focus. Then there is the question of the commission’s composition. UNM politicians want the chairmanship in line with one of the Georgian Dream’s pre-election pledges to bolster the powers of the parliamentary minority. Given the subject matter, they are unlikely to get it. Instead, the probable chair is Tinatin Khidasheli, a Georgian Dream coalition politician and a forthright critic of the UNM. The Georgian Orthodox Patriarch has called for “no revenge or enmity” between the old and new governments. Whether the commission would promote reconciliation or revenge is unclear.

There is certainly no love lost between the two major political factions. The new government’s draft budget includes substantial cuts to Mr Saakashvili’s perks. The costs of maintaining the presidential palace have attracted particular attention. In a country with widespread poverty and unemployment, these are reasonable concerns. But the public nature of the dispute underlines Mr Ivanishvili’s taste for political point-scoring. With presidential elections due next year, and local elections the year after, Georgia's deep divisions look set to continue.

2017Don’t miss the opportunity to see St. Petersburg’s rooftops risk free

Wannabe “roofers” can now scale St. Petersburg’s buildings in safety after the authorities green-lighted the installation of handrails and footpaths on three building tops in the Russian city. People will even be able to get guided tours.“Roo [ ... ]

2015Russia-Turkey war of excuses

AP photoPrint versionFont SizeSend to friendThank God, the war is not hot yet. All provocations that we can witness these days have the purpose to shape public opinion in the world. The recent story with Russia's Smetlivy warship is another proof of  [ ... ]

2016The first Romanov political exile: How Peter the Great's son fled Russia

Russia's first emperor Peter the Great was famous not only for his wars, radical reforms and the construction of the new capital, St. Petersburg, but also for his temper. He worked tirelessly, demanding the same from his comrades, and he was terrifyi [ ... ]



Classified Ads

Classified Ads