The former deputy head of the State Security Service of Georgia (SSG), Ioseb (Soso) Gogashvili, has been sentenced to five years in prison on charges including abuse of power. Supporters of the former official claim the charges are politically motivated.
Tbilisi City Court announced the decision on Tuesday afternoon.
The court found Gogashvili guilty of all five charges, which included exceeding official powers, obtaining, storing, and disseminating personal data, and illegally purchasing and possessing firearms.
Gogashvili was arrested on 16 July 2021 after a midnight raid by law enforcement agencies on his home. The former security chief claimed at the time that firearms had been planted on him, and that the charges were politically motivated.
Gogashvili’s family criticised the verdict, with his daughter, Nini Gogashvili, describing her father as a political prisoner.
She stated that the decision had been made not by the judge, but by the ruling Georgian Dream party, and alleged that Gogashvili had been sentenced as retribution for ‘going against’ the ruling party.
‘This system is aimed at reminding their teammates once again that the same fate awaits everyone who stands up to the system’, said Nini Gogashvili, ‘so that no one dares to go against them’.
The former official’s lawyer, Ramaz Chinchladze, similarly stated that Gogashvili’s conviction on all five articles made clear that the case was politically-driven, and stated that they would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Gogashvili has had a contentious relationship with the government since 2020, when he began speaking out against the country’s ruling party. The former official spent three years as the deputy head of the SSG, leaving the post in 2018.
On 13 July 2022, days before Georgian authorities apprehended the former official, a pro-government TV channel aired an audio recording allegedly from opposition-aligned channel Mtavari, in which journalists indicated that Gogashvili was the source of their reports on alleged voter manipulation during the 2021 elections.
Hours before his arrest, Gogashvili had publicly accused the ruling party of rigging elections and leaked evidence of this to non-governmental groups and embassies in Tbilisi.
After his arrest, Gogashvili continued making public allegations against the authorities, including accusing the ruling party of rigging elections and exerting pressure on the judiciary.
Gogashvili speaks out
After his arrest and the start of his trial, Soso Gogashvili made a series of accusations against the government and the SSG, suggesting, amongst other things, that a system had been established to traffic goods from Russia, and that Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was kidnapped on government orders.
‘I am your headache that is exposing your dirt’, Gogashvili wrote to the authorities from prison on 16 August.
Two large Tbilisi-based watchdog groups, the International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy and Transparency International Georgia, confirmed the veracity of Gogashvili’s accusations of election manipulation, made shortly before his arrest.
The groups stated that they had reached the conclusions based on ‘verified’ sections of the information shared with them.
The allegations included that the Georgian authorities had illegally offered pardons, lighter sentences, and opportunities to dodge military service in exchange for votes, as well as pressuring public servants to campaign in the 2020 parliamentary elections and the 2021 local elections.
On 26 July, Gogashvili accused former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili of ordering the kidnapping of the Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi in 2017.
A few weeks later, Gogashvili claimed that he had been called by his former boss at the SSG and current interior minister Vakhtang Gomelauri while in prison. Gogashvili alleged Gomelauri threatened him and his family to make him retract his allegations.
The former official also claimed that a ‘safe system’ for smuggling cargo from Russia into Georgia was set up in 2016 under Ivanishvili’s direction, and accused the SSG and its current director of facilitating the trafficking.
Gogashvili claimed that he had been involved in arranging a meeting between the heads of Russia and Georgia’s Security Services in 2016.