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Key Witness Arrested as Police Revisits Teen Murder Case

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One more person has been arrested on charges of murder committed by a group of persons in aggravating circumstances in connection with the controversial Khorava street incident in December 2017, which left two 16 year-olds – Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili – stabbed to death.

The Interior Ministry said on June 4 that Mikheil Kalandia, one of the main case witnesses in the original investigation, has been arrested for his participation in the murder of Davit Saralidze.

“The June 3 ruling of the Court of Appeals which found G.J. [another convict] guilty of group murder of Davit Saralidze has reinforced the investigation’s position and created additional grounds for Mikheil Kalandia’s participation in Davit Saralidze’s murder,” the Interior Ministry noted.

Zaza Saralidze, father of Davit Saralidze, hailed the decision as a step towards “restoring justice.” He has become known for uncompromising struggle against what he saw a faulty original investigation into the affair.

On June 3, the Court of Appeals partially took into consideration the prosecution’s arguments and re-qualified initial charges of attempted murder of Davit Saralidze against another convict (identified as G. J.) into charge of partaking into group murder, sentencing him to 11 years and three months in jail.

Commenting on the court ruling yesterday, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria said that “the ruling of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals has reaffirmed that Davit Saralidze was murdered by a group of persons; however, only one person has been identified by the investigation so far.”

Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia also remarked after the court decision, that “the ruling of the Court of Appeals enables us to revisit all case circumstances anew… we all understand that the justice system should deliver a fair verdict into the case and [do this] as soon as possible.”

Background

The Tbilisi City Court passed the teen murder case sentences on May 31, 2018. One of the suspects (identified as G. B.), was found guilty of premeditated murder of Levan Dadunashvili, was sentenced to fourteen years in prison, but his penalty was reduced pursuant to the country’s Juvenile Justice Code, and subsequently, he was sentenced to 10.5 years in prison.

Another convict (identified as G. J.), who was found guilty of attempted murder of Davit Saralidze, was sentenced to thirteen years in prison, but his sentence was also reduced to nine years and nine months. Both convicts were acquitted on group murder charges of Davit Saralidze. The decision triggered widespread protests in Tbilisi and resignation of then Chief Prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze.

Zaza Saralidze claimed that officials were trying to cover up for one of the main participants of the incident, Mikheil Kalandia, since his uncle, Mirza Subeliani worked at the prosecutor’s office when the murder occurred. During trials, Kalandia repeatedly changed his testimony.

Subeliani quit the post shortly after the incident. He was arrested on June 9, 2018 on charges of concealing a crime and later sentenced to one year and a month in jail.

An interim commission was set up in the Parliament in June 2018 to probe into the Khorava street incident, which delivered its resolution in September 2018. Although the opposition and majority MPs have diverged in their vision of the case, the final resolution requested the Interior Ministry to launch criminal persecution against Mikheil Kalandia. The Interior Ministry said then that the commission recommendations had no obligatory character for the police, but stressed that the investigation was underway.

Zaza Saralidze persevered with his protest in front of the parliament and as the police tried to prevent him from erecting a tent at the venue of protest in October 2018, he was even briefly arrested for assaulting a policeman. Salaridze’s right to protest has been strongly supported by activists.

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