The Tbilisi City Court found on January 5 ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili guilty of abusing power in pardoning the former Interior Ministry officials, who were convicted in the high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani, and sentenced him to three years in prison in absentia.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, few weeks after Girgvliani’s murder in 2006, Mikheil Saakashvili promised Data Akhalaia, then head of the the Interior Ministry’s Department of Constitutional Security, to pardon those officials from the same Department, who would be willing to claim responsibility for the murder, and would not reveal the identities of those who ordered and committed the murder.
The prosecution also argued that on November 24, 2008, Saakashvili “abused his official power, and following his illegal promise given to David Akhalaia and bypassing the Pardon Commission, pardoned Geronti Alania, Alexandre Ghachava, Mikheil Bibiluridze and Avtandil Aptsiauri and halved their prison terms, enabling the application of a pre-term release mechanism to them.”
According to the Tbilisi City Court, Mikheil Saakashvili was sentenced to four years in prison and was banned from holding public office for two years. Saakashvili’s sentences, however, were reduced pursuant to the country’s Law on Amnesty, and subsequently, the ex-President was sentenced to three years in prison with a 1.5-year ban on holding public office.
The murder of a 28-year-old Sandro Girgvliani, after his reported altercation with high-ranking Security Ministry employees, and the subsequent handling of the case by Saakashvili’s administration has attracted harsh criticism nationally and internationally, with the European Court of Human Rights saying in its judgment that the Court was “struck by how the different branches of State power… acted in concert in preventing justice from being done in this gruesome homicide case.”
The Tbilisi City Court ruling drew criticism from members of the opposition United National Movement (UNM), who have been dismissing the prosecution’s claims as “politically motivated,” and have been stressing on the President’s exclusive constitutional right to pardon prisoners.
UNM’s Zaza Bibilashvili, who convened a special press briefing today, said the judge who preceded over the case was “a criminal,” and accused him of following the instructions of ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and the incumbent officials of the Georgian Dream government.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili slammed the court ruling as well. The President said the reaction of Saakashvili’s government to Girgvliani’s murder case had caused “extreme concern in the Georgian society from the very beginning,” but added that it was “alarming” that the Prosecutor’s Office had used the President’s constitutional right “as a reason for launching prosecution.”
Mikheil Saakashvili commented on the court ruling as well, saying “the ‘decision,’ as well as the parallel legal process in Kyiv, clearly demonstrates that the oligarchic governments in both Ukraine and Georgia are working – in a synchronized and completely coordinated fashion with each other – against me as a leader of the fight against corruption, the oligarchs and the robbing the people.”
This is the first sentence delivered against Saakashvili in Georgia. The former president is wanted by the authorities on three additional criminal cases, which he denies as politically motivated.
Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed as the head of the Odessa region in south-western Ukraine on May 30, 2015, a day after President Petro Poroshenko granted him the country’s citizenship. Saakashvili resigned from the post in November 2016, after his relations with Poroshenko soured, becoming an opposition leader and creating his own political party – the Movement of New Forces – in early 2017.
Poroshenko stripped Mikheil Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship on July 26, 2017, when the latter was outside of the country. Saakashvili, however, managed to return to Ukraine forcefully, and launched street rallies against the Ukrainian President. In December 2017, the Ukrainian authorities launched a criminal case against Saakashvili and arrested him twice, but the ex-President was freed from custody first by his supporters, and then by a court decision.