With popular support for Georgia's ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition at an all-time low, two members of its parliament faction, first deputy parliament speaker Manana Kobakhidze and Human Rights Commission chair Eka Beselia , were summoned to the Chief Prosecutor's Office for questioning on December 14 in connection with damaging allegations made one week earlier by Aleksandre (Aleko) Elisashvili , who served as State Pardons Commission chairman from November 2013 until midsummer 2014.
That nine-person Pardons Commission makes recommendations to the country's president, who then takes the final decision whether or not a given prisoner merits clemency.
Elisashvili had publicly stated that during his tenure as its chairman, senior parliamentarians accepted bribes to use their influence with the commission to obtain the pre-term release of specific prisoners.
Elisashvili, who is currently an independent member of the Tbilisi Municipal Council, told journalists on December 9 after himself being questioned by the chief prosecutor that, 18 months ago, he informed several top officials -- President Giorgi Margvelashvili; parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili; Usupashvili's wife, then GD lawmaker Tina Khidasheli; Giorgi Badashvili, then chief prosecutor; and Badashvili's deputy, Giorgi Gogadze -- that senior politicians from the GD ruling coalition had accepted a $200,000 bribe to intercede with members of the Pardons Commission on behalf of specific prisoners, and a further $500,000 after the prisoners in question were pardoned.
Elisashvili said an investigation should be launched to determine why Badashvili and Gogadze failed to take action earlier on the information he provided. Gogadze, however, has denied that when he met with Elisashvili the latter made any such concrete accusations.
Elisashvili also said the president, the presidential administration head, the parliament speaker, Khidasheli, and the politicians he incriminated should be summoned for questioning.
Elisashvili's successor as Pardons Commission chairman, Zviad Koridze, was questioned by the prosecutor's office on December 9 and 11. He told journalists that he too had informed the prosecutor of the identity of politicians and other public figures who "demonstrated an unhealthy interest" in securing pardons for individual prisoners.
Koridze denied, however, that any pressure has been exerted on him personally.
Elisashvili did not publicly identify the politicians he incriminated. At least two names were leaked to the media, however: those of Kobakhidze and Beselia. The two are said to have sought persistently to obtain a pardon for Anastasiya Zautashvili, one of a group of five people convicted in 2010 of large-scale cocaine trafficking, and for whom Kobakhidze acted as defense lawyer.
Those five prisoners remain in jail, having failed to meet the criteria for pardon, which suggests they were not the people on whose behalf Elisashvili claims the $700,000 changed hands. Elisashvili declined either to confirm or deny that he was talking about the cocaine-trafficking case.
On December 15, Zautashvili informed journalists by phone from the facility where she is serving her sentence that she never paid any sum to anyone. She dismissed Elisashvili's and Koridze's allegations as "a fairy-tale."
Kobakhidze said on December 14 that she remains convinced the five were wrongly convicted. She admitted having asked the Pardons Commission chairman "not to shelve their pardon application," but denied resorting to pressure or threats.
Beselia publicly accused Elisashvili of lying and demanded he be held criminally responsible for giving false testimony.
Elisashvili responded by asking rhetorically how Beselia knows precisely what he told the chief prosecutor.
Both Beselia and Kobakhidze described the allegations of influence peddling as "political adventurism" and "a dirty campaign" in the run-up to the parliamentary elections due in the fall of 2016. But Georgian analysts interviewed by the news site Caucasian Knot expressed doubt that the former ruling United National Movement (ENM), which was forced from power by GD in 2012, was behind them.
Independent Experts' Club chairman Soso Tsiskarishvili commented that the ENM may well bear a grudge against Kobakhidze and Beselia in light of their role in securing in late 2012 an amnesty for 8,000 people jailed while the ENM was in power, including some 200 political prisoners. At the same time, he pointed out that neither Elisashvili nor Koridze is an ENM member, although he conceded they might have been fed rumors or disinformation that originated in an ENM office. Elisashvili said he went public with his allegations because the debate earlier this month over whether the Georgian Patriarch should also be empowered to pardon prisoners kindled hopes among some GD politicians that he too might prove amenable to pressure. He did not name the politicians in question.
Since Eliashvili's initial statement, up to 20 people have been formally questioned, Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze, who succeeded Badashvili last month, told journalists on December 14. He said "detailed information" will be made available once the ongoing investigation is complete.