Interior Ministry said on November 24 that it carried out an internal investigation and found an alleged abuse of power in a case that may target ex-interior minister and now general secretary of UNM party Vano Merabishvili.
The case involves two former senior interior ministry officials – ex-head of Department of Constitutional Security (DCS) Data Akhalaia and ex-head of the ministry’s internal investigations unit, General Inspection, Vasil Sanodze.
The case is also linked to a high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani in 2006.
Girgvliani’s murder case turned into the key political issue in 2006 and it was reemerging time after time in Georgia’s politics, because of persisting allegations that the investigation covered up possible links of senior Interior Ministry officials, among them Akhalaia and Sanodze, as well as of wife of then Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, to this murder case. The European Court of Human Rights said in its ruling in April, 2011 that it was “struck by how the different branches of state power… acted in concert in preventing justice from being done in this gruesome homicide case.”
A month and a half after Girgvliani’s murder, then Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili had to suspend both Akhalaia and Sanodze from their offices on March 13, 2006 amid public outcry over how the Interior Ministry was handling the case.
Data Akhalaia is a brother of Bacho Akhalaia, former defense and interior minister, who is now in pretrial detention facing several criminal charges ranging from torture and illegal confinement to exceeding official powers.
Both Vasil Sanodze and Data Akhalaia were restored on their positions through an order by then Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili in August, 2008. In May, 2011 Sanodze survived a gunshot wound to the head; according to official version Sanodze accidentally shot himself. Data Akhalaia served as head of DCS till July, 2012, before his brother, Bacho, became the interior minister.
The Interior Ministry said on November 24 that it carried out internal probe and found out that during those two years, when Data Akhalaia and Vasil Sanodze were formally suspended from their offices, the two men in fact continued performing their duties informally “with full extent and without restriction.”
“Thus senior officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs had encouraged and sanctioned an informal leadership of two main departments within the ministry for years, which may be an unprecedented case throughout the history of security agencies of civilized states,” the Interior Ministry said.
It said that because this case of “abuse of power” contains “elements of crime” envisaged by first and second parts of article 332 of the criminal code, it was decided to refer the case to the prosecutor’s office for further inquiry.
These parts of the criminal code deal with cases of abuse of power by a public servant or a high-ranking official in detriment to public interest for the purpose of gaining benefit or privilege for oneself or others. In case of a public servant, the crime carries a financial penalty or a prison term for up to three years and in case of a high-ranking official, it carries either financial penalty or a prison term from three to five years.
Chief prosecutor, Archil Kbilashvili, told Georgian news agency, InterPressNews, that summoning of Merabishvili for questioning into this case would be “logical”; he, however, also said that without yet having a full investigation into this case, it was now early to speak about details of proceedings.