Embattled Tbilisi mayor lashes out at critics after death of 13-year-old

19 October 2022
Kakha Kaladze. Screengrab from 19 October official broadcast.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze has been accused of avoiding responsibility following the death of a 13-year-old girl in Vake Park, and engineering photo opportunities with survivors of the incident. Kaladze claims that these accusations are baseless and politically motivated. 

Opening a municipal government session today, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze berated his critics over ‘an organised campaign of agitation’ after being accused of resorting to PR stunts following the death of a child. 

On 13 October, an electric shock killed a 13-year-old girl and injured two other minors after they entered a newly renovated fountain in Vake Park in Tbilisi.

Kaladze, who officially reopened the fountain a day before the incident, claimed he would resign only if the investigation found him criminally liable for the incident.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze reopening Vake Park on 12 October. The city hall removed the image and news soon after the incident.

‘The law cannot be too loyal or too strict to anyone’, said Kaladze, shortly after holding a moment of silence for the victim of the incident, Mariam (Marita) Meparishvili.

The mayor of Tbilisi went on to reiterate that he was ‘ready to be held fully responsible before the law’ provided the investigative authorities find that he was ‘even slightly culpable’, but followed this by rebuking his critics.

‘From day one of the tragedy, people have heard absolutely mind-boggling statements on TV from specific politicians’, said Kaladze. 


‘It is unfortunate that there are still people in politics who try to use a tragedy of this magnitude for their political aims’. 

But following Meparishvili’s death, Kaladze has been accused of doing the same. 

A former Georgian football star and AC Milan ex-defender, Kakha Kaladze is a long-serving leading member of the ruling Georgian Dream party and their Secretary General since late 2013. Last October, he was re-elected as Tbilisi Mayor with 56% of votes in a run-off, defeating the chair of the United National Movement (UNM), Nika Melia.

In a March survey commissioned by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, Kaladze came top of the list of most popular Georgian politicians. 

Doing damage control

Kaladze has faced additional criticism over what his opponents saw as an aggressive bid to limit the damage the incident had on his reputation, in the face of calls for his resignation. 

Two anti-Kaladze demonstrations have taken place since the event, including a rally outside his office on 17 October. Image: Shota Kincha/OC Media

On 17 October, four days after the incident, images and news appeared of the mayor meeting Devi Mezurnishvili, the gardener who is believed to have rescued the two surviving minors from the fountain.

Shortly afterwards, a Facebook account purportedly belonging to one of the minors published images of Kaladze visiting him at home.

Kaladze meeting Mezurnishvili (left) and the injured minor.

The Facebook post, which later became unavailable, had several pictures of the teenager, who had recently been discharged from hospital. In the first, he was wearing a football shirt with Kaladze’s name on it, and in another, the mayor was presenting him with a ball. 

The mayor’s critics consider the images to be part of a public relations campaign using the people involved in the accident that they deem Kaladze responsible for.

The chair of the UNM, Nika Melia, denounced Kaladze’s actions on his Facebook page.

‘You use your past and a kid spared from death by chance to evade your responsibility!... There is nothing more obscene than you, with your bloated PR service, running with your T-shirts back and forth and taking photos while the whole city is mourning!... Kakha, the children played in a park you had invited them to the day before!’, he said. 

In a speech at the 19 October session of city hall, Kaladze described the backlash to his meetings with those involved in the incident as ‘an organised campaign of agitation’. 

He claimed that he was doing his duty, ‘not only as a mayor of the capital city but first of all, as a human, as a man, as a father of three’. 

Opposition groups UNM, Lelo, Strategy Aghmashenebeli, and non-parliamentary groups Girchi More Freedom, European Georgia, and Droa demanded Kaladze’s resignation soon after the incident. 

‘We all understand that Kakha Kaladze … did not legally commit this crime. However, there exists political responsibility [over this]’, Giorgi Noniashvili from European Georgia insisted on 14 October. 

Kaladze has been known to actively use social media to manage his image, including after scandals he has been involved in. 

[Read more on OC Media: Tbilisi Mayor poses with Aprika residents after demolishing squatter settlement

Mayor Kaladze collecting rubbish in a live broadcast during a strike by waste workers. A screengrab.

His critics have pointed out that he is not alone in his public outreach endeavours as Kaladze and his office have been served by the publicly funded Agency for Communication with Citizens since 2018.

In 2020, the local watchdog group Squander Detector reported that during the first two years of the agency’s operation, the mayor’s office dedicated five times more funds to their internal PR agency than to the maintenance of the water supply system in the capital city. 

Negligence and corruption

On 19 October, Kakha Kaladze publicly ordered his office to check the safety of work that had been verified by Mshenexpert, a firm that the investigation alleged issued a forged document over the fountain’s readiness for public use. 

A day earlier, the Ministry of Interior Affairs reported nine arrests in relation to the case, including the director and one employee of Mshenexpert. 

The deputy head of the mayor’s environmental protection agency and Lasha Purtskhvanidze, director of Greenservice +, the company responsible for renovations of the park, have also been arrested. 

Lasha Purtskhvanidze is a former governor of Old Tbilisi district. In 2013, he was charged over having indirectly set up the Greenservice group to win tenders for services procured by the city authorities, while being on the selection committee. 

After avoiding a prison sentence by paying a fine, Purtskhvanidze’s new company Greenservice + became a reliable winner of public procurement tenders in Tbilisi, including the contract for the renovation of Vake Park.

Giga Gigashvili, the head of the Environmental Protection Department of the City Hall, announced his resignation minutes after Kaladze’s speech on 19 October, citing ‘moral responsibility’.

Beyond implicating the deputy head of Tbilisi’s Environmental Protection Department over fatal negligence, the Interior Ministry’s report about the initial findings of the investigation has otherwise tentatively cleared the City Hall of any other wrongdoing.