Mikheil Saakashvili has effectively called the bluff of the Georgian Prosecutor-General’s Office, which summoned him
a week ago to report for questioning by March 27 as a witness in 10 ongoing high-profile investigations, by offering to testify by Skype if and when those cases come to trial.
Saakashvili, who left Georgia late last year, after his second presidential term expired, to take up a teaching post at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, had rejected the prosecutor’s summons
as a “dirty intrigue” resulting from a clandestine agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgian businessman and philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition defeated Saakashvili’s United National Movement (ENM) in the October 2012 Georgian parliamentary ballot. He suggested Putin was out to take revenge for his unequivocal support for the new Ukrainian leadership.
Speaking in Kyiv on March 25, Saakashvili again said he would not return to Tbilisi to undergo what he termed “politically motivated” questioning. He suggested
that he risked arrest if he did so. The prosecutor’s office responded with a statement stressing that Saakashvili was to be interrogated as a witness, and there was no question of his arrest.
When Saakashvili nonetheless proved true to his word and failed to report for questioning by the March 27 deadline, the prosecutor’s office proposed
questioning him via Skype. (Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili had suggested earlier that day that Saakashvili could be questioned via video-link.)
But Saakashvili rejected that option too. Speaking in Kyiv, he told the Georgian TV channel Rustavi-2 that “the process lacks legitimacy” and that he has no time to waste on “nonsense."
Both Gharibashvili and Saakashvili’s successor as president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, have made clear
their disapproval of that refusal. Gharibashvili said it only serves to “fuel the suspicions” harbored by the Georgian authorities and the international community; Margvelashvili termed it “an insult to state institutions.”
Saakashvili is, however, willing, according to
his close associate, former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, to testify as a witness if/when any of the cases comes to trial. Ugulava reportedly told
the Georgian TV station Rustavi-2 that he has spoken by telephone to Saakashvili, who “does not wish to place himself above the law."
Ugulava said that if a specific case comes to trial, the prosecutor is entitled to summon as a witness any citizen, including individuals who were not interrogated during the pretrial investigation. If the court considers it necessary to question Saakashvili in order to establish the truth, Saakashvili is prepared to testify via Skype, Ugulava continued.
With the exception of senior ENM members who have unanimously denounced the summons as politically motivated, reactions to the Prosecutor’s summons both at home and abroad have been cautiously phrased. Acknowledging that “no one is above the law,” the U.S. State Department
and European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele
expressed concern at the prosecutor’s decision to summon Saakashvili.
Both Prime Minister Gharibashvili and Georgian parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili
chose to construe the U.S. statement as “friendly advice.” Gharibashvili adduced
the examples of former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and French Prime Ministers Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy in support of his assertion that the summons is “an absolutely normal procedure.”
In Tbilisi, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Transparency International Georgia, the Georgian Democracy Initiative, and the Civil Development Agency (CiDA) released a joint statement
stressing the need for the maximum transparency and openness “to rule out any suspicion of politically motivated prosecution.” To that end, the four groups urged the prosecutor’s office to “provide more information to the public about why it became necessary to question Mikheil Saakashvili particularly now and how it happened that his questioning became needed simultaneously on multiple cases."
It is not clear whether there is any connection between the prosecutor’s summons and recent developments surrounding the death in February 2005 of then-Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Mikheil Dzadzamia, who was in charge of Zhvania’s bodyguards on the night of his death, and the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on him were arrested last week on charges of dereliction of duty, shortly after photos of Zhvania’s body were posted on the Internet
that reportedly show head injuries that call into question the official verdict of carbon monoxide poisoning from a defective gas heater. Zhvania’s widow has since given formal permission
for his body to be exhumed.
In October 2012, Zhvania’s brother Giorgi accused
former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, former Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze, and former Prosecutor General Zurab Adeishvili of having removed Zurab’s body at Saakashvili’s behest from the location where he was allegedly killed to the apartment where he was subsequently found. Giorgi Zhvania stressed, however, that he is “not saying that it was these persons who killed my brother.”
Merabishvili was sentenced
last month to 4 1/2 years in jail for exceeding his authority in ordering police to use violence to quash an opposition protest in Tbilisi in May 2011. He has recently been questioned
about the circumstances of Zhvania’s death.
Adeishvili left Georgia in late 2012. He has been charged in absentia
with seeking to bankrupt Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank in the run-up to the October 2012 parliamentary elections.