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MPs grill investigators over Khorava Street murders

25 June 2018
Otar Kakhidze, Sergi Kapanadze and Elene Khoshtaria (Mzia Saganelidze - RFE/RL)

Investigators from the Khorava Street murder case faced questioning from MPs on Monday, into alleged failures by the investigation. A parliamentary commission was set up in the wake of large street protests in Tbilisi, which followed the partial acquittal of the suspects in the case and allegations the investigation was mishandled.

Zviad Pkhakadze, the prosecutor on the case, and chief detective Kakha Siradze faced questions over alleged mistakes made in the course of the investigation. This included why the shed in which Davit Saralidze was fatally stabbed was destroyed, how much influence ex–Prosecutor’s Office official Mirza Subeliani had over the investigation, and why people who claimed on TV to have witnessed the crime were not questioned.

The commission inquired about a third teenager reportedly wounded during the fight and why the investigation delayed in questioning and medically examining him. Rustavi 2 cited an unnamed eyewitness as saying he took part in Saralidze’s stabbing.

The head of the ruling Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, Mamuka Mdinaradze, noted after Monday’s hearing that some of the commission’s questions ‘were not fully addressed’.

The commision, headed by Sergi Kapanadze from the opposition European Georgia Party, heard testimony last week from the victims’ parents.

Following Monday’s hearings, European Georgia’s Otar Kakhidze slammed the initial investigation into the killings. ‘The investigation is in a catastrophic state. I’m not sure what it can be blamed on — if this was unprofessionalism or deliberate’, adding that Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia and former Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze ‘were involved in the case’, and therefore, they and ‘all others involved’ will be summoned before the commission.

The commission still plans to hear testimony from witnesses present at the crime, the Public Defender, Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, her deputy Natia Mezvrishvili, Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani, and former Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze, who was forced to resign following the case.  

Two relatives of participants of the fight arrested in the renewed investigation, Merab Morchadze and Mirza Subeliani, will also be called before the commision.

On Friday, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said the commission would be hindered as it had failed to obtain all of the evidence. She said that while Tbilisi City Court’s 31 May ruling was argued ‘in accordance to the law’, the prosecution failed to supply the court with all of the evidence.

‘Dangerous self-censorship’.

On 19 June, the Georgian Public Broadcaster aired a documentary which claimed to bring new evidence to light about the circumstances surrounding the Khorava Street murders. ‘Boys in Blood from Khorava Street’, from the channel’s Investigative Reporter programme, suggested that a third person, not charged with the murders, was also involved in the killings. The father of one the victims, Zaza Saralidze, has made the same claim.

The film reconstructed the brawl to identify the weapons used, which it said was not reflected in original prosecution or investigation. It also claimed one of the victims, Levan Dadunashvili, may have been killed while rushing to help the other victim, Davit Saralidze.

The programme also alleged, purportedly based on witness testimonies, that the school’s administration, including its director, knew of the original altercation that started within the school premises and failed to act. It also said that two teachers met several of the school pupils on their way to the fight and also failed to stop them.

The film’s airing was surrounded in controversy after the management of the public broadcaster expressed doubts it would be aired. Before finally relenting after calls including from Zaza Saralidze to air the programme, the channel consulted on the issue with its board, the Public Defender’s Office, ‘several’ non-governmental organisations, and the Parliamentary Commission.

The decision to consult the issue outside of the Public Broadcaster was criticised by the Media Advocacy Coalition, a national platform uniting a dozen NGOs, as a failure to address ethical and legal issue independently, setting a ‘dangerous precedent’ of ‘self-censorship’.

Protest leader released

On Monday, protest leader Zviad Kuprava and three others were released from jail, after serving 14 days for petty hooliganism and disobeying police.

Upon his release, Kuprava said he had been the ‘personal prisoner’ of Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia and Georgian Dream chair Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Kuprava was arrested on 10 June, as protesters attempted to block Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue with tents. Hundreds had gathered in front of parliament in a rally organised by the opposition United National Movement (UNM) and several minor parties.

[Read more about the 11 June detentions on OC Media: Protest leaders detained in Georgia]

In the previous week, thousands had gathered outside Tbilisi’s parliament following Tbilisi City Court’s partial acquittal of defendants in the fatal stabbing of two teenagers outside Tbilisi School No 51. Protesters said the investigation into the murders was compromised by evidence tampering.

Speakers at the initial rallies included Zaza Saralidze, father on one of the victims, and Malkhaz Machalikashvili, the father of a teenage boy fatally shot by security forces in December during a  special operation in the Pankisi Valley.

A probe by the Prosecutor’s Office into possible abuse of power during the special operation has yet to conclude.

Pankisi rallies

Zaza Saralidze and Malkhaz Machalikashvili in Pankisi on the grave of Temirlan Machalikashvili (Giorgi Aladashvili - RFE/RL)

On 21 June, Machalikashvili claimed that in March, he was handed the identity of the person who shot his son by an unknown person. He said he suspected the information came from the State Security Service (SSG), who he said ‘did it with the intention that I would avenge his death’. ‘I fight only within the law to establish the truth and punish perpetrators’, said Machalikashvili.

On 19 June, Machalikashvili organised a rally in front of the community centre in Pankisi’s administrative capital Duisi. He called on the authorities to admit that his son’s killing was a ‘crime committed by the state’, to punish Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia and SSG head Vakhtang Gomelauri for driving the counter-terror sweep that resulted in his son’s death, and to declare his son Temirlan posthumously innocent.

He said there would be no more ‘playing with the blood of Pankisi’s Kists’ and warned that the rallies would move to Tbilisi. Zaza Saralidze also joined the demonstration, and both visited the grave of the slain teen afterwards.  

As the protests waned after 11 June, the State Security Service (SSG) announced they had launched an investigation into Machalikashvili, after he said that he ‘and several hundred others’ had planned to blow themselves up outside the SSG offices, but then changed their minds.

Machalikashvili later explained that his statement was merely an impassioned speech, insisting he would do no harm to the Georgian people. Local rights group EMC called the launch of the investigation ‘unfounded’, and added that it may be an attempt to exert control over Machalikashvili and his family due to their active participation in the ongoing protests.

[Read more on OC Media: ‘Terrorism’ investigation launched into father of slain Pankisi teen]

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