Series of recordings made in prison and involving the former Prosecution Office official, Mirza Subeliani, is developing into a major scandal, affecting the ongoing Presidential campaign, but also bringing into focus what seem to series of flaws in governance by the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG).
Below is the summary of the developments so far.
What are these tapes?
The audio tapes represent apparently covert recordings of conversations of inmate Mirza Subeliani with GDDG MP Viktor Japaridze. Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze has authorized MP Japaridze to visit Subeliani on July 6, July 20, September 10, October 11 and October 14, 2018, according to the copies of permissions obtained by Liberali web magazine.
Who has aired the tapes, and which ones?
Rustavi 2 TV, a national broadcaster leaning strongly towards the United National Movement (UNM), a former ruling party and GDDG nemesis, was the first to air the tapes.
- On October 14, the TV station aired bits of a lengthy recording of more than an hour, allegedly taken on October 11;
- On October 16, the Prosecutor’s office aired the second batch, of a several shorter snippets from the conversation that allegedly took place much earlier, on July 6;
- On October 17, Rustavi 2 has aired another batch, made recently, either in September or early October, as participants refer to the Okuashvili affair, a series of allegations leveled recently against GDDG.
Why are the tapes important?
The tapes’ capture political attention since Mirza Subeliani seems to hold many threads to recent scandals. Subeliani held the seemingly innocuous position of the deputy head of human resources department in the Prosecutor’s office. However, his influence seems to supersede his grade.
Subeliani was arrested on June 9, 2018, following mass public protests over the Khorava street murder of December 2017, which left two 16-year-olds – Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili – stabbed to death.
Two teenagers were arrested over the murder, but the court acquitted both suspects on group murder charges of Davit Saralidze, bolstering the existing doubts of the victim’s family that the Prosecutor’s Office had concealed some elements of the crime.
Subeliani’s son was involved in a street-fight that led to deaths, as was his nephew, Mikheil Kalandia, the main case witness, leading Saralidze’s family to believe that Mirza Subeliani, as the prosecution official, protected the murderer/s through his connections.
Subeliani was formally detained on charges of failure to report the crime. The victim’s father, Zaza Saralidze, claims this was an unwilling concession from the government to pacify thousands of Georgians who have hit the streets in solidarity with Saralidze.
Tip of the iceberg?
The tapes aired by Rustavi 2 on October 14 suggest, that Subeliani’s involvement in Khorava street murder was not accidental, but in fact, he was one of the government’s top “fixers” in complicated cases.
On that recording, Subeliani suggests, that his detention was pre-arranged with the authorities to defuse the protest. He also says, the deal was struck with the government officials, including personally with Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia to minimize the sentence he would serve in prison.
Alongside Khorava street case, Subeliani claims on the same tape, to have helped the prosecution and political officials to tie loose ends in several high profile cases, including ex-PM Vano Merabishvili’s alleged removal from prison, retired colonel Sergo Tetradze’s case, 2006 Navtlugi special operation and the 2006 prison riot. Subeliani says he and his affiliates were forcing witnesses to give testimonies on these cases, including through torture.
He names several high officials, including Sozar Subari, PM Mamuka Bakhtadze’s advisor and former prisons minister, ex-PM Irakli Gharibashvili and three former chief prosecutors – Archil Kbilashvili, Otar Partskhaladze and Irakli Shotadze – as people who have used his services or condoned his actions.
Why was Subeliani speaking?
In the first Rustavi 2 recording, Subeliani was speaking to MP Japaridze in confidence, to act as a go-between between himself and Interior Minister Gakharia. Subeliani seemed to be discontent by the delay of his court trial and also by some statements of the officials that either do not support him, or worse, contradict his deposition.
Subeliani seemed to be particularly angered at Mikheil Shakulashvili, the teen murder case prosecutor, who in his deposition to the ad hoc Parliamentary commission created to look into the case, confirmed on July 23, that he met Subeliani shortly after the murder of Saralidze and Dadunashvili. During his own deposition one day earlier, Subeliani had denied that such meeting took place.
The inmate fears this could be a ploy by the authorities to file additional charges against him, which he claims would go against their agreement.
Subeliani then speaks about his ability to blackmail the officials, while saying he has been so far refraining to do so for considerations of duty and honor. He implies that he holds evidence of illegal dealings – “terabytes of data” – and warns he will publish these materials. He asks MP Japaridze to convey his discontent to Minister Gakharia and accelerate the trial process.
MP Viktor Japaridze confirmed that the conversation did take place and that he visited the prison cell through his MP credentials. Japaridze also noted that the points raised by Subeliani “did not seem serious,” and that he “was speaking inadequately,” obviously under lot of stress from his prison time. The MP claimed he made “no reaction” to inmate’s statements.
What does the Prosecution say?
The Prosecutor’s Office says that “one of the versions the investigation is pursuing, is that Mirza Subeliani might be influencing the results of inquiry into his case through publishing false, fabricated accusations.”
On October 15, the Prosecution argued that the “preliminary analysis” of the audio recordings released by Rustavi 2, led the investigation to “actively consider the version that the recordings could have been staged by a group of individuals for future use.”
To back up their version of events, on October 16, the Prosecution presented the recording allegedly made on July 6, which is said to have been found on the memory card of a prison officer who, the prosecution claims, was pressured to release the Rustavi 2 recording.
On this recording, Subeliani is telling MP Japaridze that he feels betrayed by the government, who, he feels, is going to aggravate his charges and sentence under political pressure from Saralidze investigation.
He tells his interlocutor that he is ready to “lie” about sensitive topics, so as to put the pressure on the government. Then he proceeds to list all the cases, which were mentioned in the first tape released by Rustavi 2, as potential topics he is prepared to lie about, just to damage the GDDG.
Rustavi 2 finds inconsistencies
Nika Gvaramia, director general of Rustavi 2 TV, claims the Prosecution has staged the batch of recordings released on October 16, and implies that they were made during MP Japaridze’s October 14 visit to Subeliani – that is already after Rustavi 2 released a program teaser of its own recordings.
Gvaramia points out that the reaction of MP Japaridze to the accusations made by Subeliani on October 11 seems inconsistent with Japaridze already knowing these statements are intentionally false (since Subeliani told him about his intention to lie already in July, as Prosecution recording seems to allege).
Rustavi TV director also points out that in the Prosecution recording Subeliani makes reference to the teen murder case and says he is “aware of the developments on Rustaveli”. From the context of the conversation, Subeliani was referring to rallies in solidarity with murdered teenager’s father but the rallies were already suspended on June 11.
Gvaramia also flags several irregularities in the manner of the conversation, pointing unnatural intonations, monotonous flow and excessive use of formal language in the second batch, as opposed to expletive-ridden first batch, expressing suspicion that the two “were reading from a script” and were aware that their conversation was being recorded.
In the second Rustavi 2 tape released on October 17, Subeliani is recorded as saying that two days before his detention he met with then Minister of Corrections Kakha Kakhishvili to convey that he was ready “to willingly go to prison.”
Subeliani adds he threatened the minister with release of his covertly recorded conversation of 2013, apparently, unless he was given favorable terms while in custody.
Subeliani repeats he holds evidence of illegal dealings, and suggests he was offered GEL 2 million in exchange for releasing the materials. He is also heard saying that he has “given his word” to Sozar Subari not to disclose the materials, and that he will keep the promise only until his prison term expires.
Subeliani adds he has two options – “to kill Misha” (apparently, Mikheil Saakashvili), or “make a deal with him.” The inmate says he is not planning to pursue the second plan as “his (Misha’s) proposals are fairly unacceptable” for him. Subeliani speaks on the first option as well, saying he is ready to kill “Misha,” and plot the murder in “maximum 2-3 months.”