The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office has charged four former security service officials for planning to murder businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili in England. Suggestions by investigators that the killing was ordered by former President Mikheil Saakashvili come as the government is embroiled in scandal over secret recordings implicating them in pressuring businesses, kidnapping, and torture.
Georgian business tycoon Arkadi ‘Badri’ Patarkatsishvili, widely hailed as ‘the richest man in Georgia’, died in his home in Surrey, England, in February 2008.
British police initially treated his death as ‘suspicious’, but later ruled he died of a heart attack. Months before his death, Patarkatsishvili told the Sunday Times the Georgian government was planning to assassinate him.
Patarkatsishvili was living in exile to evade charges of plotting to overthrow Saakashvili’s government. He had taken part in 2007 mass anti-government demonstrations and participated in the 2008 presidential election, coming third with 7% of the vote.
In their statement on Wednesday, the Prosecutor’s Office said the four former security service officials planned the murder ‘on former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s orders’ because ‘Patarkatsishvili was a political rival and the arch-enemy of the government’.
Three of the four were already serving time for crimes committed under the former ruling UNM, while a fourth has now been arrested.
The Prosecutor’s Office said they had discovered secret audio recordings in 2016 while searching the home of one of the suspects in the 2012 prison rape and torture scandal.
The statement said the discovered audio files were recorded by the Interior Ministry on 4–5 February 2007.
A deadly ‘substance’
According to investigators, one of the recordings features a former security service official trying to talk one of Patarkatsishvili’s bodyguards into providing information about the layout of his boss’s house and the cooks.
The other recording, according to Prosecutor’s Office, is a conversation between former security service officials planning the murder with either gas, poison, or some other substance.
A man identified as Giorgi Dgebuadze by investigators is heard talking about a substance which ‘you smear on the door handle and it will kill a person two hours after touching it’. He also expresses concern about whether they have such a substance at their disposal.
A man identified as Levan Kardava assures them they definitely have it. While another man identified as Revaz Shiukashvili says that ‘Chechens have it’.
‘We can pour it in his shoes or spray it on his suits’, he adds. Later, the man identified as Dgebuadze says they need Patarkatsishvili’s housekeeper.
The statement from the Prosecutor’s Office said it could be concluded from the conversations that the planning of the murder was agreed with then senior security official Data Akhalaia.
Akhalaia and Dgebuadze were both convicted in 2016 of abuse of power and the murder of ‘innocent young people’ who the authorities alleged at the time were planning to free prisoners during the 2006 Rustavi prison riot.
When challenged as to why they were going ahead with the prosecutions now if they found the tapes in 2016, the prosecutor said it took them time to study the records and that they ‘filed charges after the investigation came close to a certain standard’.
Saakashvili responded to the allegations by saying that Georgian Dream were ‘in full agony’. He said the recordings were staged because security service officials would never mention his last name ‘whatever happened’.
‘Whoever has worked in the system know this one well, apart from the fact that they never received such orders. They are in full agony. I was wondering why they proposed this miracle Zurabishvili as a candidate [for president], how can she win? Turns out Ivanishvili hopes the tricks pulled from his grandma’s chest will work, they think everybody’s a fool’, said Saakashvili.
After revelations the family of Badri Patarkatsishvili issued a statement stressing that ‘although the investigation has been going on for a long time now, today's briefing was still a big shock’ to them.
‘We demand the conclusion of a thorough investigation in the shortest possible time and hope that everyone who planned this evil act, from those ordering it to those executing it, will face full the full force of justice and God’, the family's statement said.
The Subeliani tapes
The revelations from the Prosecutor’s Office come as the government is embroiled in scandal over secret recordings published by opposition-leaning TV channel Rustavi 2, implicating senior Georgian Dream officials, including at the Prosecutor’s Office, in serious wrongdoing.
The tapes suggest officials may have abused their power, cracking down on businesses, and engaging in kidnapping and torture, among other things.
In recordings aired on Sunday by Rustavi 2, a man identified as former senior Prosecutor’s Office official Mirza Subeliani talked of engaging in kidnappings and torture on the orders of senior political figures and law enforcement agencies.
Subeliani allegedly mentioned the convictions of several former officials from the United National Movement he helped secure while working at the Prosecutor’s Office, using illegal means.
Subeliani allegedly claimed to have ‘terabytes’ of incriminating recordings which, if made public, would trigger public protests and the downfall of the Georgian Dream government.
On Tuesday, the Prosecutor’s Office made public a tape of another conversation ‘between Mirza Subeliani and [ruling party MP] Viktor Japaridze’, the same two men as in the Sunday tapes.
‘I'll undermine you with lies’, a man identified as Subeliani warns Japaridze.
Critics have pointed to inconsistencies in the new tape and there has been widespread speculation it was staged, as the two men appear to speak in a stilted, and at times strained manner.
Senior members of the UNM claimed the new tapes were staged by the Prosecutor’s Office in order to counter claims of illegality made in the originals.
On Monday, the day before the the Prosecutor’s Office released the latest tapes, Rustavi 2 director Nika Gvaramia warned the public that he had received information that the authorities had ‘delivered’ Japaridze to Subeliani’s detention centre, where they staged a new conversation.
[Read more about Rustavi 2 records and ‘staged’ records of prosecution on OC Media: Prosecutor’s Office ‘stages’ new Subeliani tapes contradicting claims of abuse]