International interest attracted to legal proceedings against former Georgian Ministers
By Ana Robakidze
Friday, May 24
Kutaisi City Court ordered to jail former Prime Minister of Georgia, Vano Merabishvili while Zurab Tchiaberashvili, the governor of Kakheti region and ex-healthcare minister were released on bail of 20,000 GEL.
Merabishvili will spend two months in jail, until his trial on charges of abuse of power, misspending and bribing of voters.
“Allegations are absolutely groundless,” Tchiaberashvili said. He is sure that arrests were carried out in conflict with procedural norms. He is also certain that there were no reasons to order the pretrial detention for Merabishvili. “We have stated multiple times publicly that we were continuing our political activities openly and that we were not going to hide (from law enforcers).” Tchiberashvili argues, that as a former ambassador to the Council of Europe he is holding a diplomatic rank, therefore only the Justice Minister was authorized to arrest him.
The detention of former high officials has attracted international interest. The U.S as well as Europe are going to follow the investigation and legal proceedings.
The U.S State Department does not make any assessment as to whether the arrest of Georgian officials was a result of political prosecutions, but they, the department will follow all legal proceedings.
“We are closely following the cases of detentions and investigations of alleged abuse by former officials. We have stressed to the Georgian Government the importance of conducting such investigations and prosecutions with full respect for due process and avoiding the perception or reality of political retribution. The United States encourages all political actors to continue to work together constructively toward the shared goal of advancing Georgia’s democratic and economic development and Euro-Atlantic integration,” Patrick Ventrell, deputy spokesperson of U.S Department of State said on May 22.
The European People’s Party (EPP) expressed its concern over the arrest of Merabishvili and Tchiaberashvili.
“I’m astonished at and deeply concerned about the arrests of Vano Merabishvili and Zurab Chiaberashvili. These arrests are a very serious setback for Georgian democracy since former PM Merabishvili, as Secretary General of the UNM and leader of the main opposition party is a potential candidate for the upcoming presidential elections which will take place in October. Decapitating the opposition will have significant consequences for the country’s political system, so I call on the international community to set up a monitoring mechanism that will assess the entire electoral process prior the presidential elections”, the President of the EPP, Wilfried Martens said in an official statement published on the party’s web-page. He also requests guaranties that Merabishvili’s rights will be protected in full.
“I call on all the relevant authorities of the European Commission and the other European institutions to monitor closely and to assess thoroughly the judicial process; the EPP will surely do the same,” Martens states.
The EPP president hopes that the investigation will be carried out without any political persecutions and “the judges will be able to take independent and impartial decisions.”
President Mikheil Saakashvili called his party members arrest "a political retaliation". The President also stated several times that the fact will have a negative impact on Georgia’s international relations and hamper the progress on the way to Euro-Atlantic integration.
The members of the Georgian government disagree with the President and state that the investigation process is absolutely free from any political influence, as well as pointing out that judges are free to make their decisions.
The State Minister for Reintegration, Paata Zakareishvili stated after the government meeting, that any kind of political revenge is precluded. The Minister says the international community will never forgive the government if any political persecution takes place in the country. Therefore, it is impossible to imprison high ranking officials without a legal base.
Merabishvili has been sent to prison N 9 in Tbilisi. According to the Penitential Minister Sozar Subari, Merabishvili is in a proper environment and all his rights are protected.