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Police have arrested a key witness in the Khorava Street murders on charges of the group murder of Davit Saralidze. His arrest on Tuesday came just a day after the Tbilisi Court of Appeals ruled that one of Saralidze’s killers had not been identified or charged by prosecutors.
On 3 June, the court of appeals ruled that one person initially convicted for ‘attempted murder’ of Saralidze was guilty of his murder, but that that the Khorava Street killings remained partially unsolved.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said that they had suspected Mikheil Kalandia involvement in the murder for a while and that Tbilisi City Court’s ruling only intensified their suspicion.
The decision of Court of Appeals, ‘confirmed the rectitude of the investigation, strengthened the position of the investigation, and created additional evidential grounds to think that Kalandia was an accomplice in the murder’, said the statement.
If found guilty, Kalandia may face 13–17 years of jail time.
The victim’s father, Zaza Saralidze, responded positively to the news of the new arrest.
‘We can consider that justice has been served, but there’s a trial ahead. Let’s see how the prosecution will substantiate his arrest, whether they will still try to justify him. Let’s see’, he told TV Pirveli.
However, Kalandia’s family have claimed that his arrest was politically motivated.
‘There’s a political interest. Wouldn’t they arrest him over the last year and a half had there been any evidence against him?’, Tengiz Kalandia, the father of the defendant said.
In December 2017, two 16-years-old boys, Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili, died from multiple stab wounds sustained during a school brawl that broke out following an argument earlier that day.
The Prosecutor’s Office initially charged two teenage boys with ‘premeditated murder of an underage person’. However, Tbilisi City Court found one of them guilty for murdering Levan Dadunashvili and another was found guilty for the attempted murder of Saralidze.
The court’s decision, which maintained that the murderer of Davit Saralidze had not been identified by the investigation, Zaza Saralidze, to organise mass protests in front of the Georgian Parliament demanding that justice be served.
Why was he not arrested until now
A parliamentary investigation commission into the Khorava Street murders that concluded in September recommended that Kalandia be arrested and accused the Prosecutor’s Office of turning a blind eye to his role in the murder. The commission concluded that the prosecution had failed to carry out a thorough investigation into him.
Kalandia’s uncle, Mirza Subeliani, a former high-ranking employee of the Prosecutor’s Office, was arrested in June and charged with failing to report a crime. Zaza Saralidze, the father of the slain teenager, accused him of covering up his nephew’s crime.
Subeliani was allegedly caught on CCTV destroying evidence from the crime scene.
In October, opposition-leaning TV channel Rustavi 2 released a secret audio recording, allegedly recorded in prison where Subeliani was serving time.
The conversation, which they claimed was between Subeliani, Georgian Dream MP Viktor Japaridze, and a former senior Corrections Ministry official Davit Khutsishvili, suggested why the investigation did not arrest Kalandia.
In the recording, the man identified as Subeliani said that he had been covering for the people involved in the murder.
He also said that the police were not arresting Kalandia because ‘it will undermine their scheme’.
The ruling of Court of Appeals
As the Tbilisi Court of Appeals announced their decision on Monday, Zaza Saralidze told journalists that for the first time he had the feeling that ‘justice has been partially served’.
‘I will fight until the end. Nobody should think that I’m going to relax or back down … I call on the government — very little time remains, this fight will not stop and everybody will be held accountable in front of the law’, said Saralidze.
The court also made the decision to aggravate the charges against the defendant for murdering Levan Dadunashvili. As a consequence, both of those convicted in the case will serve 11 years and three months behind bars.
‘Even this court, which is being fully controlled by the government, did not enforce the absurd, catastrophic arguments which the prosecution had’, said the MP Sergi Kapanadze from the European Georgia Party. Kapanadze was the chair of the Parliamentary Commission created to look into the Khorava Street Investigation.
The Commission had also established that Davit Saralidze’s murderer had not been identified.
Initially, the prosecution had charged both G.J. and G.B. for the group murder of Davit Saralidze, however, G.B. was acquitted by the court of this charge.
[Read more about the ruling of Court of Appeals on OC Media: Court rules accomplice in Saralidze murder still unidentified]