Brigadier General Giorgi Kalandadze, who stepped down five days ago as chief of general staff, and the commander of the army’s 4th Brigade, Zurab Shamatava, were also arrested hours later in the presence of Prosecutor-General Archil Kbilashvili.
Akhalaia’s lawyer, Davit Kereselidze, said the former minister was arrested in connection with allegations by several unnamed former Defense Ministry officials that he had insulted them. Kereselidze dismissed those allegations as “obviously absurd.”
Parliament member Akaki Minashvili similarly characterized Akhalaia’s arrest as “a farce” and as “politically motivated persecution” by the new Georgian government that came to power a month ago after defeating President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement in bitterly contested parliamentary elections.
None of the three men has yet been formally charged.
Akhalaia’s appointment as defense minister was controversial insofar as while heading the penitentiary system in 2005-08, he was believed to have incited riots in two prisons by treating inmates with indiscriminate and unwarranted brutality. It is not clear whether investigators will also question Akhalaia about the video footage of abuse and torture in a Tbilisi prison that impelled him to resign as interior minister in late September.
Similarly unclear is whether Akhalaia may be questioned about the Defense Ministry’s huge budget deficit. Irakli Alasania, whom new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has named as defense minister, said the ministry currently has a 113 million-lari ($68.5 million) deficit. Its allocation in the 2012 budget was 676.5 million laris, up from 660 million laris in 2011.
Alasania has vowed to make the Defense Ministry more open and more accountable to parliament and to “depoliticize” it. Independent expert Irakli Sesiashvili, who has been named to head the parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, told journalists on October 18 that successive “unprofessional” ministers have seriously undermined the ministry’s capabilities. He particularly deplored the neglect of crucial infrastructure and the firing of many competent personnel, who he said were replaced by persons who lacked professionalism.