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Akhalaia found not guilty in SWAT team members' case

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, November 1
The Tbilisi City Court acquitted Bacho Akhalaia and other defendants in the seven SWAT team members' case on October 31.The case was tried by Judge David Mgeliashvili. Bacho Akhalaia and seven other defendants were charged with the inhumane treatment and torture of seven SWAT team members.

Akhalaia pleaded not guilty to the charge. His lawyers argued that the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team members had not been tortured but rather had undergone a physically and emotionally demanding ‘Ranger’ training course.

Akhalaia family members said they were surprised by the judge's decision.

Akhalaia’s father, Roland Akhalaia, stated that the verdict was a sign of the judge’s impartiality.

“It is the right decision. I want to address the judge of my husband's previous trial [concerning the 2006 prison riot]. He found my husband guilty and the thieves are proud of his decision.” Bacho Akhalaia's wife, Ani Nadareishvili, said.

Nadareishvili described the verdict in the SWAT team members' case as a "restitution of justice" for the perceived wrongdoing during the previous trial.

Prosecutor Davit Mestvirishvili says that the decision will be appealed at the Appellate Court. He refrained from making further statements.

Bacho Akhalaia, ex-defense minister and former head of the Georgian prison system, was found guilty of inhumane treatment at his trial relating to the 2006 prison riot. He was sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment and fined 4,000 lari.

The verdict was announced by the Tbilisi City Court judge on October 28th.

Akhalaia was accused of personally beating several prisoners when he was the prison system chief in March 2006. His actions provoked a riot at Prison #5 in which several inmates died.

“We will definitely appeal the verdict,” one of Akhalaia’s lawyers, Malkhaz Velijanashvili, said.

Bacho Akhalaia faces one more trial, this time in the Sandro Girgvliani case. The trial will begin on November 18th.

Akhalaia denies all charges and has described them as "political revenge."

Analyst Khatuna Lagazidze told The Messenger that the current Georgian government will refrain from taking further steps against former leaders of the United National Movement until after the EU Association Agreement is signed.

“Sending former officials to prison during this period might threaten Georgia’s EU path and the current government will act carefully.” Lagazidze stressed.

Lagazidze explained that the West was more tolerant of Saakashvili's government going after former officials because it was a different time and Saakashvili was heavily supported by the United States.

She admitted that the current government of Georgia is also supported by Europe and America.

“Without their assistance the Georgian Dream coalition would not have come to power.” Lagazidze said, adding that the West has realized its mistakes regarding Saakashvili. She added that once Saakashvili leaves office it is unlikely that he will be arrested by the current government. There would be too much criticism from the rest of the world, Lagazidze explained. She also added that the peak period for restoring justice has passed.