Prague, 25 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The secretary of Georgia's Security Council, Nugzar Sadzhaya , has reportedly committed suicide amid accusations that he was involved in the assassination of President Eduard Shevardnadze's predecessor.
Georgian media say Sadzhaya was found in his office today with a bullet wound in his head. He was later taken to hospital, where he died before surgeons could operate.
The office of Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichizde has launched an investigation, and security has been increased around the State Chancellery where Sadzhaia had his office.
Sadzhaya, 60, was considered an ally of President Shevardnadze. As secretary of the Security Council -- a post he held since the creation of the advisory body in 1995 -- he oversaw the Defense, Interior, and State Security ministries.
Although it is not immediately clear why Sadzhaya would have taken his own life, officials say his death may have resulted from what they describe as a defamation campaign.
In comments broadcast on 19 February on state television, independent parliamentarian Boris Kakubava accused Sadzhaya and Avtandil Ioseliani, the chairman of Georgia's intelligence department, of masterminding the killing of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
Gamsakhurdia was Georgia's first post-Soviet president. He was ousted 10 years ago by Shevardnadze -- who then enjoyed the support of Russia.
Gamsakhurdia spent time in exile in neighboring Chechnya. He later returned to his home region of Zugdidi, in western Georgia, to lead an armed insurrection against the new government. He died in late 1993 in what his supporters say was murder organized by Shevardnadze himself.
Last week, Kakubava also accused Sadzhaya and Ioseliani of plotting to kill Shevardnadze as well as Aslan Abashidze, the president of Georgia's autonomous republic of Adzhara. Abashidze, whom Kakubava is reportedly close to, was appointed Shevardnadze's envoy to the breakaway republic of Abkhazia in 2001.
In an interview on state television a few days later, Sadzhaya denied the charges brought against him and said he filed a complaint against Kakubava.
Shevardnadze also denied the accusations launched against Sadzhaya.
Shevardnadze told reporters today at Tbilisi's main hospital, where Sadzhaya was taken, that his death was the result of psychological pressure. Asked whether he believed Sadzhaia committed suicide or was murdered, the Georgian leader said, "This is a suicide committed on the basis of moral terror. [Sadzhaya] was a man with a strong will; he was honest and self-sacrificing. I'd rather say 'he is' -- may God help him survive. I've known him for 30 or 35 years. We've been working together all this time and I take him as a loyal, just, and self-sacrificing man. Probably, he could not stand this moral terror, which we did not notice. Actually we did notice it and we encouraged him. But, apparently, his nerves failed him. I want to keep a faint hope that he will make it."
Former parliament Speaker Zurab Zhvania also hinted Sadzhaya might have committed suicide because he could not stand accusations brought against him.
Parliamentary Deputy Chairman Vakhtang Rcheulishvili said Sadzhaya was overstressed and that the recent charges brought against him were the last straw. Rcheulishvili hinted at reports that Sadzhaya committed suicide after reading newspaper headlines sporting fresh accusations against him.
"As far as I know, [Sadzhaya] was alone in his office. He had just read the morning newspapers and had conducted a meeting [with his staff]. The meeting went very quietly. After that, [Sadzhaya] remained alone and then this tragedy happened, which we all deplore."
Kakubava today gave a press conference in which he rejected any responsibility for Sadzhaya's reported suicide. He also questioned the official version of the facts.
"Why is suicide the only possible version? Why not murder? You all know what kind of things happen in our country," Kakubava said.
A former apparatchik of the Georgian Communist Party, Sadzhaya was born in December 1941 in the western Tsalendzhikha region. Even though little is known about Sadzhaya's actual role in domestic politics, many in Georgia used to describe him as Shevardnadze's "gray cardinal."
In the wake of November's government reshuffle, two of Sadzhaya's former associates -- Koba Narchemashvili and Valeri Khaburzaniya -- were appointed Interior and State Security ministers, respectively. The move gave rise to much speculation but was generally seen as an attempt to restore the poor image of Georgia's law-enforcement agencies.
A month ago, Narchemashvili and Khaburzaniya launched a security crackdown on the Pankisi Gorge, a crime-rigged northeastern region that borders Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya.
What consequences Sadzhaya's death will have on the Pankisi operation is still unclear. But news of his reported suicide has already disrupted the country's political life.
Parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze put off indefinitely a planned trip to Turkey, while Sadzhaya's Ukrainian counterpart, Yevhen Marchuk, was requested by Georgian authorities to cancel his visit to Tbilisi.