The former deputy head of Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG), who was arrested on Friday, has threatened to expose government misdeeds.
Tbilisi City Court remanded Soso Gogashvili into pre-trial custody on Monday, three days after a midnight raid by law enforcement agencies on his home on Friday night.
The Prosecutor’s Office has charged him with exceeding official powers, obtaining, storing, and disseminating personal data by using his position, and illegally purchasing and possessing firearms. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors have claimed that they retrieved illegally obtained personal information and state secret files from his home after they apprehended him. They did not specify further the nature of the files that they had retrieved.
Gogashvili has claimed that officers planted firearms during the search of his house and that he had sustained injuries during the arrest, a claim that triggered a probe by the Special Investigation Service.
Gogashvili’s lawyer, Ramaz Chinchaladze, said that officers forced him to hold the firearms, with hands tied behind his back, in order to link them to his fingerprints and DNA evidence.
Gogashvili was at the foundation of the SSG as a standalone agency, becoming its First Deputy Director several months after it was split from the Interior Ministry in 2014. He served as a deputy under SSG Director Vakhtang Gomelauri, Georgia’s Interior Minister since September 2019.
He was also reportedly involved in a controversial special operation in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley during which 17-year-old local Temirlan Machalikashvili was shot dead.
[Read more on OC Media: Family of slain Pankisi teenager appeals to European Court of Human Rights]
The former Deputy Director of the SSG became a vocal critic of the government in 2020.
However, several government critics among rights groups and the opposition who have insisted that the Machalikashvili shooting was not adequately investigated criticised the timing and purported reason for Gogashvili’s arrest.
Many pointed out that Gogashvili was arrested hours after he threatened to unveil a ‘scheme’ to rig the 2021 local elections.
After his arrest, Gogashvili vowed through his representatives to start publishing materials compromising the authorities within days. He alleged that those materials were ‘in safe hands’.
Nika Melia, the chair of the opposition United National Movement (UNM), which in 2017 urged the authorities to investigate Gogashvili for possible illegal income, called his arrest political retribution.
On 13 July, days before Georgian authorities apprehended the former official, pro-government TV personality Gia ‘Utsnobi’ Gachechiladze aired an audio recording of a newsroom discussion at Mtavari in which journalists indicated that Gogashvili was the source of their reports on voter manipulation during the 2021 elections.
[Read more on OC Media: Leaked recording suggests surveillance of Georgian newsroom]
In recent years, the SSG have been embroiled in several illegal surveillance scandals, the biggest one being the illegal wiretapping recordings leaked to Georgian media in the summer of 2021.
In the records of the communication among security officers, one of them seemingly refers to Gogashvili as the someone who ‘took away the videos that we cannot find’.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian security services accused of mass-surveillance of public figures]