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New Georgian Leadership To Reopen Investigation Of Ex-Prime Minister’s Death

Georgia's incoming Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani (file photo)
Speaking to journalists one week after her nomination as justice minister in Bidzina Ivanishvili’s new cabinet, Tea Tsulukiani said the investigations into the deaths of banker Sandro Girgvliani and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania will be reopened as numerous questions remain unanswered.

Girgvliani was found beaten and stabbed in the throat on the outskirts of Tbilisi in January 2006 after an altercation in a bar the previous night with senior Interior Ministry personnel and the wife of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. Zhvania was found dead with another man in a rented Tbilisi apartment early on February 3, 2005. Georgian officials, including Merabishvili, immediately said their deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from an Iranian-manufactured heater that had been incorrectly installed. But FBI experts who traveled to Tbilisi to assist the investigation failed to confirm that assumption.

Zhvania’s brother Giorgi subsequently adduced circumstantial evidence suggesting the two men died elsewhere and their bodies were then transported to the apartment where they were found. Giorgi Zhvania has now openly accused Merabishvili and two other former senior officials of staging, at the behest of President Mikhail Saakashvili, the scene at the apartment intended to create the impression that the two men were the accidental victims of asphyxiation. Zhvania stressed, however, that he is "not saying that it was these persons who killed my brother."

The apartment where the bodies of Zhvania and Kvemo Kartli Deputy Governor Raul Usupov were discovered had been rented several months previously by Misha Dzadzamia, one of Zhvania’s bodyguards, for clandestine assignations with his mistress, according to UPI on November 28, 2005. Zhvania had requested the temporary use of it "for a secret meeting." When Zhvania failed to make regular contact with his bodyguards, Dzadzamia broke a window to enable another bodyguard to enter the apartment. That man found Zurab Zhvania and Yusupov dead and "a terrible something was burning."

Merabishvili announced within hours that the two men had died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but carbon monoxide has no odor. Moreover, the main gas supply to the entire street had been cut hours before the bodies were discovered because residents had reported a suspected gas leak. FBI experts invited to Tbilisi by the Georgian authorities failed to confirm that the heater could have produced lethal quantities of carbon monoxide, according to an IWPR article by investigative journalist Vakhtang Komakhidze published a year after Zhvania’s death.

In that article, Komakhidze also listed Giorgi Zhvania’s doubts that his brother died in the apartment where his body was found. Giorgi Zhvania had earlier pointed out repeatedly that neither his brother’s fingerprints nor those of Yusupov were found anywhere in that apartment. He said Zurab never smoked a cigarette to the end and always twisted it when stubbing it out, but only one of the several dozen cigarette butts found in the apartment had been extinguished that way. Giorgi Zhvania also noted that the food laid out on the table (together with a bottle of cognac) included sausage, which his brother did not eat, according to on April 4, 2005.

Komakhidze later made a TV documentary questioning the official version of the circumstances of Zhvania’s death that was shown in October 2007 on Russia’s REN TV channel.

In the September 2007 TV interview in which he accused Saakashvili of condoning corruption and the murder of political opponents, former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili also said he knows that Zhvania did not die at the location where he was found. Zurab Noghaideli, who succeeded Zhvania as premier but fell out with Saakashvili in 2008, has also hinted that he knows incriminating details about Zhvania’s death, but he has not revealed them.

In his interview with Maestro TV, Giorgi Zhvania named three former top officials who he claims engineered the transport of the bodies of his brother and Yusupov to the apartment where they were found. The three are Merabishvii; former Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze, now a deputy parliament speaker representing Saakashvili’s United National Movement (EEM); and former Prosecutor General Zurab Adeishvili, who according to Tsulukiani left Georgia after the EEM’s defeat in the October 1 parliamentary election.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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