Georgia’s parliament has voted to suspend Nika Melia, an MP from the opposition United National Movement Party (UNM) after he was found guilty of abuse of power.
Eighty-eight lawmakers voted in favour of suspending Melia as an MP in Thursday’s vote, with none voting against. No opposition MPs took part in the vote.
On 2 December, Tbilisi City Court fined Melia ₾25,000 ($8,700) and banned him from public office for three years for seeking to bankrupt Cartu Bank back in 2012, when he was chair of Georgia’s National Bureau of Enforcement.
Cartu is owned by the chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The Interior Minister launched an investigation into the matter in late 2012, soon after a Georgian Dream ousted the UNM from power in elections.
The authorities argued that Melia acted together with then–Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili, who the Court also found guilty and sentenced to five years and three months.
Both men were absent during the 2 December court verdict.
While Melia boycotted the proceedings, Adeishvili was sentenced to prison in absentia. He left Georgia after Georgian Dream’s parliamentary win in October 2012 — reportedly, within days.
Melia’s representatives and supporters condemned the parliamentary suspension, insisting that the case should pass through the appeals process first.
Following the suspension, Melia insisted it ‘did not change anything’, and vowed to continue to ‘disturb’ Georgian Dream.
In late June, Georgian Dream MPs voted to strip Melia of his immunity from prosecution, as requested by the Prosecutor’s Office. The move followed his indictment for ‘organised violence’ at an anti-Russia protest outside parliament on 20–21 June. The case is still pending in court.
On 2 July, Melia was granted bail but ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, to account for his movement to the authorities, and to refrain from making statements in public.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian prosecutors probe opposition for ‘rebellion’]
Georgia’s constitution permits MPs to be criminally prosecuted, detained, arrested, or have their office, vehicle, or residence searched only with parliament’s approval. The only exception is if they are caught in the act of violating the law.
Melia’s immunity was previously debated a year ago, in June 2018, after police detained him at an anti-government demonstration in front of parliament. The Interior Ministry cited an immediate need to stop him from violating the law.
Melia was inspecting cars parked near the demonstration, according to him in order to search for ‘high-ranking law enforcement officials’. Authorities later argued they merely ‘removed’ him from the scene, relocated, and released him afterwards.
[Read more on OC Media: Protest leaders detained in Georgia]
The UNM has presented Melia, a 40-year-old graduate of the Oxford Brookes University, as one of a new generation of leaders within the party.
In contrast to his recent conviction, he has distanced himself from some of the actions of the formerly ruling party.
In October 2017 local elections, Melia ran for the post of Chair of Tbilisi City Council, together with another UNM newcomer, mayoral candidate Zaal Udumashvili.
When most of the UNM’s MPs split from the party to create European Georgia in January 2017, Melia also briefly joined the new party, before rejoining the UNM 7 days later.
He also got in spat with former President and UNM chair Mikheil Saakashvili during the mayoral race in Zugdidi in May, hinting that Saakashvili’s ‘reckless’ statements promising a ‘revolution’ frustrated voters after it was not realised.