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Georgia’s Interior Minister has suspended the head of the Border Police and chief of Counterintelligence, in its investigation into the abduction of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli from Tbilisi.
In a 20 July special briefing, Interior Minister Giorgi Mghebrisvhili claimed he was confident in the pair’s innocence, but that they will remain suspended until the investigation is concluded.
‘In any case, the border was crossed in uncertain conditions’, he added, asserting that the officials were suspended to ‘exclude any questions in the case’.
The minister did not specify how Mukhtarli crossed the border. According to him, police have interviewed 343 people but could not confirm the journalist’s claims.
Footage from more than 60 cameras have also been examined, according to Mghebrishvili, but none of them show that Mukhtarli was abducted.
He claimed footage from Baratashvili Street shows Mukhtarli catching a bus, but no one on the bus route claims to have seen ‘anything unusual’.
The case was forwarded to Georgia’s General Prosecutor’s Office on 20 July and an investigation is underway.
Mukhtarli’s lawyers and his wife claim that the journalist was abducted from Tbilisi by a group of unknown people wearing Georgian police uniforms. The claim has not been confirmed by the Georgian authorities, who have refused to release footage from security cameras along the route Mukhtarli took before the abduction.
Mukhtarli was last seen in Georgia by his friend on the evening of 29 May. After failing to return home, he resurfaced again in Azerbaijan charged with what his lawyer calls ‘bogus charges’.
The journalist is currently in pre-trial detention in Baku, charged with smuggling €10,000 ($11,200), border trespass, and disobeying border guards.