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U.S./Georgia: Diplomat's Court Appearance Scheduled For March 4

Washington, 21 Februry 1997 (RFE/RL) - Gueorgui Makharadze, the Georgian diplomat accused of causing a car accident that killed a 16-year-old girl in Washington last month, has been ordered to surrender his passport and return to court in two weeks.

In a brief statement to reporters yesterday, the 35-year-old envoy appealed to Americans to refrain from judging him until, in his words, all the facts are known. He was released to the custody of the Georgian Embassy.

Authorities in Washington say Makharadze was drunk and driving dangerously in the early morning hours of January 3rd when he lost control of his car and started a chain reaction accident that killed the girl and injured four others. He was formally charged yesterday with involuntary manslaughter and four counts of aggravated assault.

Officials could not pursue a case against him until Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze intervened and waived the diplomat's protection of immunity. Makharadze will stand trial in the U.S., but authorities have left open the possibility that Makharadze could, if convicted, be returned to Georgia to serve a prison sentence.

The diplomat said yesterday that he respected his government's decision. He says some aspects of the case are, as he put it, far larger than me. He also said he could not adequately express his deepest sorrow to the girl's family.

Makharadze's Washington lawyers say he will plead not guilty when he returns to court on March 4th.