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Georgian Officials' Arrests Test Historic Political Transition

Georgia Arrests Saakashvili-Era Officialsi
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November 16, 2012
Georgian police detained a further nine former state officials on November 15, widening an investigation which the opposition says is a politically motivated persecution by the new government headed by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. The nine, all Interior Ministry officials who worked under President Mikheil Saakashvili, were charged with abuse of power. Similar allegations were brought against the former interior minister and two military commanders arrested last week. (Reuters video)
WATCH: Georgian police detained a further nine former state officials on November 15. The nine, all Interior Ministry officials who worked under President Mikheil Saakashvili, were charged with abuse of power. Similar allegations were brought against the former interior minister and two military commanders arrested last week. (Reuters)

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Georgia's new rulers call it a crackdown on corruption and abuse. The country's outgoing leaders say it's a politically motivated witch-hunt.

But by whatever name, a series of criminal cases against officials from President Mikheil Saakashvili's team is casting a pall over Georgia's historic political transition.

About a dozen Georgian Interior Ministry officials, including the head of the ministry's Department for Constitutional Security, were arrested and charged with abuse of office this week, raising fears that the country's first-ever peaceful handover of political power through competitive elections is coming unraveled after little more than a month.

The officials have been charged with crimes ranging from torture and illegal detention to abuse of office.

Speaking to reporters in Tbilisi on November 16, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani took pains to argue that the arrests do not signal a politically motivated persecution of Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM).

"By no means are we witnessing political persecution here," Tsulukiani said. "We have to be able to cohabitate until the next presidential election and as long as Mikheil Saakashvili is in office. We have to coexist in the political space -- this goes without saying. But this does not mean that any crime -- past, present, or future -- will remain unpunished."

Seeing Justice Served?

The Georgian government has been controlled by the Georgian Dream coalition of Prime Minister Bizdina Ivanishvili since historic October 1 parliamentary elections dealt a sharp blow to the ENM. However, Saakashvili remains president and the ENM is a formidable -- albeit minority -- bloc in parliament, forcing an uneasy cohabitation.

Georgian Dream campaigned in part on a pledge to combat corruption within the ENM-led government and views its victory as a mandate for tackling the problem.
Supporters of former Interior and Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia arrive at a city court building in Tbilisi on November 9.
Supporters of former Interior and Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia arrive at a city court building in Tbilisi on November 9.

Shorena Shaverdashvili, editor in chief of the magazine "Liberali," says the elections showed the Georgian people want a functioning system rather than the mere exposure of individual cases of corruption.

"Yes, it was part of their campaign and I think this is one of the biggest demands," Shaverdashvili said. "People want to see -- beyond exposing the cases of corruption --  that 'justice is served.' I'm pretty sure there are quite a number of people who are after revenge, sort of emotionally speaking -- I'm talking about ordinary citizens. But I think everybody really understands that this cannot be about revenge, that this is actually just serving justice."

'Weak Basis'

The ENM has complained loudly that the cases -- which include the arrest on November 7 of former Defense and Interior minister Bacho Akhalaia -- are politically motivated vendettas.

"There is a desire to engage in certain legal action against these individuals -- however, the basis for this, at this moment, is very weak," Giorgi Meladze, the director of the Liberty Institute, a pro-ENM think tank, says. "The impression we get from the current situation is kind of flippant. The investigative structures are faced with a very serious challenge -- to answer these questions, but to remain free of political pressures while doing so. This should be pursued the way it is done in states where there is functional justice system -- observing the imperatives of the rule of law."

Journalist Shaverdashvili says it is crucial going forward that the government prepare its cases transparently and meticulously, not giving in to public pressure or pressure from the ENM.

Gagi Mosiashvili, a lawyer and a member of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, agrees that establishing a fair process is essential.

"I really do not think these individuals are being arrested in response to public demand," Mosiashvili says. "We are talking about the rule of law -- which should form the basis for every single step that the organ that is overseeing this process undertakes."

'We're Not Out In The Streets'

For now, Shaverdashvili says, the system is working and the political environment is not as tense as it was during the election campaign.

"The peaceful transition is still intact," Shaverdashvili says. "We are not at each other's throats. We are not out in the streets, which was a likely scenario especially during the pre-election battle stage, so to speak. I think we are still within the peaceful transition range."

But, she adds, that new information is coming out by the hour and even more prominent Georgian political figures could find themselves caught up in the investigations.

"We might see more detentions of higher-ranking officials," Shaverdashvili says. "It can go all the way up to Saakashvili's very close circle."

RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Nino Kharadze contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
by: Ika from: Tbs
November 16, 2012 22:52
So Shorena Sgaverdashvili says that these arrests are about serving justice? We all know that Shorena has no sense of shame, but radio Liberty, spending US taxpayers's money on spreading this disgusting demagogy, should be ashamed. Im not even mentioning unbiased journalism - it has died long time ago.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 17, 2012 09:38
Dear Ika, you are saying: "Unbiased journalism - it has died long time ago". Well, maybe somewhere it died, but here on the RFE/RL web-site it just never existed :-)).
But I mean, apart from the quality of "journalism" here, what's the feeling of the people in Tbilisi: Which way is the new Georgian govt likely to take the country? What is going to happen to Mischa a year from now? Is there some kind of a "desire for change" on the streets or people are just tired of politics?
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 17, 2012 13:45
We all know how subjective and biased RFE/RL is and that objective journalism lives only in the posts of Putin-Jugend eugenio-jack type left wing loonies and if it wasnt for their objective and all revealing posts nobody would care for this web site.Thank God /the god of the fallen angels,that is/ that we have such stalwarts,pardon wart hogs to shine their light on us,oherwise we would be living in total darkness.And it doesnt matter how many people the new georgian authorities arrest-as long as russian kgb Vahtang Kaka Dudu is allowed to walk on his knees scot free in Moscow there is no hope for the future of Georgia!!!
In Response

by: Rasto from: wherever my comp is
November 17, 2012 20:16
Eu(genius) from a captial of eastern german provinces
I shall advice you that to keep asking about Mischa's (as you call him) destiny in one year time show's how much some foreigners do not understand Georgian society. ..Mischa in jail may satisfy those who know Georgia from an international press..However large part of a political clique in the country is just like him. Some of the "qualities and values" he represented are unfortunatelly enrooted in the psyche of the large part of society there.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 18, 2012 08:49
Dear RASTO: Well, you know this kind of forums exist SPECIFICALLY for curious people (like myself) asking the informed ones (like yourself, I hope) about what the real situation is (given that reading "articles" published here does not necessarily give one a VERY clear idea about the real state of affairs, let's put it this way not to offend anyone :-))).
But so, did I understand you correctly: (a) you are saying that IT DOES NOT MATTER whether Mischa will end up in jail or not? But, I mean, what does the majority of people in Georgia/Tbilissi/Where your Computer is want? Are people taking sides in this "little quarrel" between Mischa and Iwan.? Can one expect this time around anything similar to what happened between Schewa and Gamsakhurdia in the early 1990s or this time the whole thing will be resolved in a peaceful manner?
(b) Then you are saying: "Some of the "qualities and values" he represented are unfortunatelly enrooted in the psyche of the large part of society there". So, are saying here that - again - IT DOES NOT MATTER who will run the country? You are basically saying that there will be NO SOCIETAL CHANGE no matter who will be in charge?
See, I am asking due to the following: given the fact that, under Mischa, Georgia has gotten into quite a few (absolutely unnecessary) fights that it never had a chance of winning anyways (given the difference in sizes between Georgia itself and its enemy of choice). So, whoever will come after Mischa will have to adress this "broad theme" one way or the other: do just simple people on the streets of the place where your computer is care about this or they are just passively looking at what appears to be the early stages of a controntation between the two camps?
In Response

by: Rasto from: Serang
November 18, 2012 19:52
Eugenio, I do not know how old you or for how long you have been living in Austria. For example apart Vienna and part of the young generation. I have not seen any dramatic changes in Austrian society. Slightly generalizing, but in the psyche of most of Austrains are firmly enrooted simmilar showinist and nationalist tendencies as well as provincialism as 50 years ago. I do not generally believe in societal changes within periods shorter than 2 generations. Georgian society will not change by 180 degrees because one politician will be maybe exiled or jailed.. Life there is tough and pressures unthinkable and unknown to people in west are daily reality there. If you do not show your teeth you will be eaten. That happen to idealist Gamsachurdia and resulted in puppet style Shevarnadze reign. Saakashvili has built a unique system of internal secret inteligence network that replaced zakonnyych vorov or legal thievs, Mkhedrioni and local warlords local to them. He understood that if he has to survive all these have to go out of the country. Will Ivanishvili do the same, will he ask some of thes for exile to come and help? Will he do nothing?
I shall probably remind you some of your previous comments form debates about Georgia describing country as a lost with fallen society and non-functional government. That is perhaps how some from west see this country, if you stay behind what you wrote, you may well understand that society seldom changes to better without experiencing positive changes. Misha understood that partially, he understood an importance of good PR unfortunatelly failed beacuse his poor personal values. Will Ivanishvili select a right path measured to the situation in which Georgian society is?
Misha's personal situation - what might be potential outcomes and scenarios: jail is a very unlikely. If Achalaia was able to mobilize 1000 mercenaries and position them out of Zugdidi during voting ( won by his father over Irakli Alasania) , and Misha managed to send specnaz to Khashuri to stole voting urns to prevent victory of his personal enemy who publicly spoke about his private life earlier than jail is extremely unlikely.Everything else one can imagine is possible.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 19, 2012 12:01
Hello, Rasto from Serang, yours are interesting thoughts, even if you more tend to formulate questions of your own rather than give answers - I guess it is just a part of the "right attitude" for a wise man from the Caucasus :-)).
As far as your comments on Austria are concerned, I am here since 2007 and very frankly I would go even further than you in qualifying the society here as "traditional": you know, the people who live in the country-side seem to have this mentality silimilar to that of Medieval peasants - they see the world exactly the same way in which their forefathers probably did 200-300 years ago.
And then you are saying: "Life <in Georgia> is tough and pressures unthinkable and unknown to people in west are daily reality there. If you do not show your teeth you will be eaten". :-))) I mean, Rasto, you just can not imagine the amount of TEETH that one regularly needs to show in order not to be eaten up here in this "marvelous" West: sometimes I wish I were a shark :-))).
In Response

by: Jack from: US
November 17, 2012 14:47
"radio Liberty, spending US taxpayers's money on spreading this disgusting demagogy"

Dear Ika, did you just wake up?
That is what RFE/RL "Radio Liberty" is supposed to do, which is what US government orders it to do
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 17, 2012 21:32
Molodets jacko,does that mean that you as a US taxpayer also contribute to RFE/RL`s lies??? Or that you just cant distinguish between US and SU-soviet union due to the amount or Quality of moonshine you imbibe??? Back in the good old days of USSR the russian used to say there is no thruth in `Pravda`-the Communist party central newspaper which translates as `truth` and there is no news in `Izvestya`-the other leading daily which means simply news.Your past as an orderly in Gulag shows dear Joke ,so it is high time for you to sober up-if such thing is possible for you and your austrian bedfellow.And if you apply for the Job of gen.Petraeus,we are all sure your p;atonic relationships with eugenio wont hinder your chances for getting the job-and then you can beat the bloody hell out of all RFE/RLerr and tailor the station to your objective ways.You can also apply for the BBC post,so quit writing those glorious posts and do something-its now or never-we cant wait any longer!!!

by: Mamuka
November 17, 2012 14:40
The mysterious units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, including the Constitutional Security Police and the Special Operations Division, always seemed to operate outside the law or just within its limits. But the real question is whether the new regime will resist the urge to create similar units?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 18, 2012 08:54
... and another interesting question is how the country will (re)position itself ON THE INTL ARENA if (or once) the new regime creates those similar units, unroots the "elite" that Mischa has created over the last 9 years or so and takes hold of ALL the power structures in the country (I mean, in the case if they manage to achieve all of those goals).

by: Semyon Ivanov from: London
November 17, 2012 15:37
YES! I am happy to read about this. The core issue is government corruption and abuse. Georgia is cleaning house. Azerbaijan should follow suit.

Last week the United Nations opened a criminal inquiry into Azerbaijan First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva for corruption of the State Oil Fund. Mehriban Aliyeva abuses her seat in Parliament and as the First Lady to make her family more wealthy and punish her enemies. She is ruining the country.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 18, 2012 09:14
Well, Semyon, what you are saying seems to underline the following trend: WOMEN seem to be getting every more power in policy-making these days. Just look at it yourself:
(a) in AZ Mehriban "abuses her seat in Parliament",
(b) in UZ the daughter of Karimov represents her country as a diplomat in Madrid,
(c) in China there has just been a major reshuffle in the Central Committee - and the only thing the media, for example, here in Austria talks about is this attactive signing lady who happens to be the wife of the new Chairman of the Military Committe of the Communist Party,
(d) and finally in one more of those Asian-style despotic regimes - called the United States - two women (one called Broadwell and the other one Kelly, I think) seem to have put the entire political scene in a complete mess just weeks after the presidential election.
So, Semyon, I say: give women more power instead of criticizing them :-).
Cheers from Vienna!
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 18, 2012 11:39
Aaah,Eugenio has just changed his sex thanx to Jack`s wishes and now it will be Eugenia!!! LGBTS of the whole world,beware!!!
In Response

by: Nick from: From all over
November 18, 2012 13:09
@ Eugenio it's obvious were you and jack are from... You twist your arguments anyway you want them, when refl is critical of misha you say he is an American puppet but suddenly the opposition is an American puppet. I am Georgian and I for one am happy to see that the people who made fortunes by making others lives miserable are getting what they deserve. In a sense we are more democratic then the USA were big cooperates control the government and the curt. You can't pull that off in a small country it only works when you don't have to step on 80% of the population.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 19, 2012 11:48
Dear Nick from all over: First of all, I never said that the Georgian "opposition is an American puppet". Second, it's actually a good question: who is the "opposition" and who is "power" in today's Georgia? If you are Georgian, as you say you are, maybe you could enlighten us on what you (and the Georgian society at large) are expecting to happen over the next months: who will have the final word in the "quarrel" between Mischa and Iwan.? Which direction is Georgia likely to follow in its relations to the "great powers" of this world?

by: Ben
November 18, 2012 16:57
After Timoshenko`s sentence some Svoboda-journalst wash himself clean in vain and the Georgian spring singers will follow soon.

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