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Accusations fly among former UNM colleagues

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, April 17
Former chief of the constitutional security department, Data Akhalaia, who is hiding abroad after the parliamentary elections of 2012, accused the current general secretary of the United National Movement (UNM), Vano Merabishvili, in various criminal actions, including the creation and transfer of prison torture footage and the Lapankuri special operation.

Akhalaia’s lawyer confirmed the authenticity of the letter. Through the letter published on Facebook, Akhalaia stated that after observing and analyzing the situation, he came to the conclusion that “the main source of many misfortunes is only one man– Vano Merabishvili– who sacrificed the state and the country’s interests to the fight against him and his brother Bacho Akhalaia.”

Akhalaia claims that the Lapankuri special operation was planned by Merabishvili against his brother, for destroying his image and was carried out by Giorgi Lortkipanidze.

“Merabishvili sacrificed our soldiers, complicated our relations with the North Caucasus people and put the country`s international image and security at risk,” Akhalaia stated.

Akhalaia also stressed that he had proof concerning the prison torture videos. He announced that Merabishvili organized the records of horrifying shots in prisons and transported them abroad with the help of Amiran Meskheli aiming at revenge against Bacho Akhalaia.

“With complete responsibility I assert that Merabishvili planned and implemented the violence and mistreatment towards our soldiers on the Ialghuja military base with the help of Shalva Janashvili and recently my brother is accused in the crime,” Akhalaia said.

“However, all these events, especially the prison torture videos, struck a mortal blow to the UNM. Merabishvili sacrificed the party and state interests for his personal ambitions,” Akhalaia said.

In response, Merabishvili stated on his web page that the letter was “groundless delirium.” Merabishvili stressed that the letter “was needed for the current government to disrupt the April 19 street rally planned by the UNM.” However, at the same time, Merabishvili did not know whether the letter was authentic or not.

The content of the letter was denied by Giorgi Lortkipanidze, who called the letter “absurd” and stated that investigators should study the Lapankuri events.

Family members of Akhalaia stated that the letter was a surprise for them and they did not know whether the letter was really written by Data Akhalaia or not. However, family friend and the Executive Director of the Institute of Freedom and Democracy Development, Tea Tutberidze, states that she has information from a trusted source that the letter is fabricated and that the lawyer of Akahlaia just saw the picture of Data Akhalaia on the Facebook and confirmed the letter was authentic. Tutberidze neither confirmed nor denied the confrontation between Akhalaia and Merabishvili.

Data Akhalaia’s lawyer, Irakli Zakareishvili, called “absurd”, Tutberidze’s accusations towards him and one more time confirmed that the author of the letter was Akhalaia.

Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, did not exclude that some members of the former government might have “weak nerves and deal with the current government.”

Chief Prosecutor of Georgia, Archil Kbilashvili, stated that the transfer of prison torture footage abroad is not linked with Merabishvili through the current version of the investigation. “However, if Akhalaia has some real evidence concerning the issue, we would be interested,” Kbilashvili said, adding that if Akhalaia comes back to Georgia he will be arrested, as there is a criminal case filed against him.

Chairperson of the Legal Issues Committee of Parliament, Vakhtang Khmaladze, does not rule out that the former senior official of the Constitutional Security Department may have important documents. Khmaladze stated that high ranking officials often copy the important materials.

Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of Parliament, Eka Beselia, said the most correct position of Akhalaia would be to cooperate with the investigation.

According to analyst on Caucasus issues, Mamuka Areshidze, there was information concerning the conformation between the various branches of the UNM, including between Akhalaia and Merabishvili. The analyst states that it should not be excluded that the Lapankuri special operation was targeted to discredit Bacho Akhalaia. “There are lots of questions concerning the special operation,” Areshidze stated.

During the operation that began on August 28, 2012 in Lapankuri village, at least 14 people were killed and at least six wounded in a firefight on August 29. Among the victims were 11 members of the mysterious armed group (including at least two Georgian citizens, as well as at least five Russian citizens, all of the latter born in the former Chechen–Ingush ASSR).