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Khorava Street murder commission accuses officials of cover-up

6 September 2018
(parliament.ge)

A parliamentary commission into last December’s fatal school stabbings has concluded that the investigation was compromised in order to protect a high-ranking official and his relatives. Ruling party members of the committee disputed the findings of the opposition-led commission, which held the Interior Minister and Justice Minister ‘politically responsible’, arguing it had been politicised.

In their 67-page conclusion, the commission, headed by the European Georgia Party’s Sergi Kapanadze, found that the investigation was compromised in favour of Mirza Subeliani, a former high-ranking official at Prosecutor’s Office whose son and cousin were among the participants of the deadly school brawl.

The commission found that some investigatory procedures, including examining witnesses and collecting material evidence, bypassed Subeliani and his relatives altogether, while in other instances the authorities did so with delay. It accused former Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze of either ‘negligence’ or ‘abuse of power’.

Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili were fatally stabbed on 1 December 2017 in a brawl that followed an argument in central Tbilisi’s School No 51. The partial acquittal of suspects in the case led to 12 days of street protests in Tbilisi and Shotadze’s resignation.

Thousands protested in front of Tbilisi's parliament on 31 May (Dato Parulava/OC Media)
Demonstrators held pictures of the victims in a protest outside the Prosecutor's Office (Dato Parulava/OC Media)

The judge in the case concluded that there was no evidence to convict the suspects for Saralidze’s killing. Protest leaders argued this was because the prosecution had tried to pin his murder on one of the killers of the other teen in order to protect Subeliani’s relatives — a claim backed by the commission.

‘Politically responsible’

The commission identified Subeliani’s cousin as one of Davit Saralidze’s attackers and accused prosecutors of trying to spare him from liability while pursuing others. The commission called on the authorities to open an investigation into Subeliani on charges of giving false statements to Parliament, abuse of power, pressuring witnesses, and hindering an investigation.

The commission also found Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani ‘politically responsible’ for the investigation, something members of the ruling Georgian Dream Party on the Commision rejected, accusing the opposition of politicising of the process. Georgian Dream members prepared their own version of the findings, which were ultimately voted down by the Commision.

Georgian Dream members partially agreed with the commission’s conclusions, that the investigation fell short of conducting all the necessary procedures regarding evidence collection, examinations, and questioning witnesses. They also acknowledged that testimonies from Subeliani’s son and cousin contradicted those of most other witnesses. However, they contested the claim that the investigation was compromised by undue outside influence.

On 6 September, Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze criticised European Georgia for preparing a document consisting ‘mostly of political judgements’, and going beyond identifying faults in the investigation. Georgian Dream members on the commission also argued that it was not in the commission’s mandate to judge who had committed a crime or how such crimes should be qualified.

Anri Okhanashvili, the Commission’s vice-chair and an MP from Georgian Dream, pointed out that ‘after evidence was collected against him, the former Prosecutor’s Office employee faced criminal charges’, referring to the prosecution of Mirza Subeliani.

Authorities arrested Subeliani on 9 June on charges of ‘failing to report a crime’, after protesters led by the father of victim David Saralidze, Zaza Saralidze, insisted Subeliani was among those responsible for covering up the crime. Subeliani was allegedly caught on CCTV destroying evidence from the crime scene. In early June, authorities also arrested Merab Morchadze, the father of another of the alleged participants of the fight, charged with pressuring witnesses.

The father of one of the victims, Zaza Saralidze, became a symbol of the protests (Dato Parulava/OC Media)

The June arrests followed a ‘renewed investigation’ by the Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia personally took over the investigation from the Prosecutor's Office after Prosecutor General Irakli Shotadze’s resignation did nothing to quell street protests.

On Thursday, Zaza Saralidze thanked the commission for their work while calling Georgian Dream members’ conclusions ‘shameful’. ‘As the authorities are covering for my son’s killers, this investigation will be taken care of by the next government’, said Saralidze, announcing protest rallies would be held from Monday.

The commission

The Commission was set up in early June, led by and with a majority of members from the opposition European Georgia Party.

The commission questioned prosecutors and investigators, witnesses, those convicted of attempted murder, murder, and concealing the crime, experts and the heads of the schools involved in the case.

A scene from the fight from the Commission findings document (parliament.ge)

The Commission also heard testimony from Shotadze, Gakharia, and Tsulukiani. While the ex-Chief Prosecutor and the Interior Minister mostly defended themselves against allegations they had jeopardised investigations under their supervision, Tsulukiani’s questioning lasted less than 5 minutes, after she reiterated her support for the former chief prosecutor.

Georgian Dream members argued throughout the summer that Shotadze, Gakharia, and Tsulukiani were irrelevant to the case. However, on 12 July, the Public Defender, Nino Lomjaria, called the investigation ‘ineffective’, and suggested possible negligence, abuse of authority, or both from the Prosecutor’s Office.

Khorava Street murder

The murders of Saralidze and Dadunashvili followed a verbal altercation in the school toilet and culminated with a fight involving dozens of young people outside the school’s premises on Khorava Street.

On 2 December, two teenagers were charged with ‘premeditated murder of an underage person’, and another five for failing to report the crime.

On 31 May, Tbilisi City Court found one of the defendant’s guilty of murdering Dadunashvili but acquitted both of killing Davit Saralidze, with one found guilty of attempted murder.

After the court’s ruling was announced on 31 May, crowds began to gather in front of the Prosecutor’s Office demanding he resigns.

As leading human rights organisations including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and Transparency International Georgia, as well as opposition parties and some members of the ruling Georgian Dream party repeated this demand, Shotadze resigned.

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