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More questions than answers in Zhvania case

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, January 22
Widow of deceased Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania responded to the statement made by the recently released former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili. The response concerns the various versions of Zhvania’s death. The late Prime Minister’s wife claimed that Okruashvili always states “what is in his interests” and that former Defense Minister’s views do not change the Zhvania’s family attitudes at all.

According to official conclusions, the PM died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater. The heater had been improperly installed in the apartment where Zhvania's body was reportedly found on February 3, 2005 in the Saburtalo district of Georgia’s capital. Along with Zhvania, Deputy Governor of the Kvemo Kartli region, Raul Usupov, was also found dead in the same apartment, also reportedly killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Despite the official statements, details of Zhvania’s death have remained relatively obscure and several questions left unanswered. This is in light of the fact that Zhvania’s relatives and friends, as well as a large part of society have claimed that the Prime Minister was killed by the leaders of the Rose administration.

Speaking in an interview with Imedi TV on September 25 of 2007, Okruashvili, who was Defense Minister at the time of Zhvania’s death, claimed that Zhvania’s corpse had actually been brought into the flat where it was apparently discovered. He added however, that he was not prepared to speculate on the issue and refused to say “that Zhvania was murdered.” That statement was taken as a proof of the family version by the relatives of Zhvania.

After his confrontation with the former government, Okruashvili lived in exile and only after Georgian Dream became victorious in the recent elections, did Okruashvili return to Georgia. After being detained briefly on his return, the court released shortly thereafter.

In a recent interview with channel 9, Okruashvili openly stated that he doubted that Zhvania was killed.

“I do not think that he was killed. It was not murder… I can not say anything more concerning the issue at present. I think that I will have to speak regarding the case with appropriate structures,” Okruashvili stated.

“His statements do not change our position, he always says what is in his interests,” said Zhvania’s widow Nino Kadagidze.

She also expressed surprise concerning Okruashvili’s release.

“It was unexpected for me that he was released so quickly. I think that some hidden process took place… it is difficult for me to say what,” Kadagidze said.

Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili responded to Kadagidze’s statement. Accordimg to him, Okruashvili was released as there was no proof implicating him in any crime.

“These “ongoing processes” Kadagidze’s mentions regarding Okruashvili is her subjective view,” Kbilashvili said, adding that the decision on weather Okruashvili will be questioned or not concerning Zurab Zhvania’s case should be made by the case investigator.

“ I do not make such decision… if I were the investigator on the case, I would not question Okruashvili for the phrase he made concerning Zhvania,” Kbilashvili stated.

The Chief Prosecutor emphasized that the investigation concerning Zhvania’s case in under way and no conclusions have been made.

“We will be able to answer the questions when the investigation is over… we are actively collaborating with Zhvania’s brother concerning the case,” Kbilashvili suggested.

Head of the Elections and Political Technologies Research Centre, Kakha Kakhishvili, told The Messenger that there really may not be any proof regarding Okruashvili’s guilt.

“I believe that the charges really lacked background and Okruashvili was released because of it. However, there is another issue… those prosecutors who during the Rose administration claimed that Okruashvili committed severe crimes now practically state that he was innocent. This highlights the fact there are serious problems in the Prosecutor’s office,” Kakhishvili stated, adding that the investigation should be launched towards those prosecutors who “invented the charges” during the ruling period of the former government.

“It has been stated frequently by members of the Zhvania family, that they had real proof that the former PM was killed and after some period they should air this proof. I believe that the Zhvania family possesses such material that could really make the case clearer,” Kakhishvili said.

The analyst also suggested that the investigation should already know the direction of the case.

“They should already know whether it might be murder or natural death… I think that the investigation should not last long, as the public’s patience has limits,” Kakhishvili said.