Tbilisi City Court has imposed 2000 GEL bail and restricted foreign travel to European Georgia’s Gigi Ugulava on September 12, following an incident at the Tbilisi International Airport the previous day. The ruling is highly controversial, since Ugulava claims he was the victim of a politically orchestrated assault, rather than its perpetrator.
Report of the incident
According to Ugulava, who broke the news of the assault in his social media post, he was flying out to Larnaca, Cyprus at the dawn on December 11, together with his party colleague from the European Georgia Goka Gabashvili, when two men assaulted them in the departure terminal. Ugulava said in post that the two were “[Georgian Dream leader Bidzina] Ivanishvili’s Orks”, claiming later that the assailants were instructed to disrupt his travel, since its objective was to study Ivanishvili’s offshore financial dealings.
The media reported, based on the photographs, that one of the two men who approached Ugulava and Gabashvili was one Badri Gavashelishvili, a judo champion. Journalists identified Gavashelishvili as one of the men who was caught on video as “agent provocateur” at the opposition rally of November 16, which strengthened suspicions of an orchestrated assault on Ugulava.
Later on December 11, Ugulava posted an update saying the police showed up at his residence to charge him for assaulting Gavashelishvili, based on Article 126/1 of the Criminal Code, implying assault inflicting physical pain. The media got hold of Gavashelishvili’s deposition in which he claims to have seen from afar, that Ugulava was physically confronting a friend of his at the airport, and having come to the friend’s rescue, receiving repeated blows from Ugulava.
Notably, the Police inquest recognized Gabashvili (who accompanied Ugulava) as a victim of violence from Gavashelishili’s friend.
Due to mutually exclusive depositions, Ugulava’s defense lawyer was requesting time to study the materials of the case. This motion was turned down by the Court which held the preliminary hearing and came up with the verdict the same day, on December 12.
The request for screening a surveillance video footage, which was confirmed to exist, was also denied by the investigation, on the grounds that the investigators have no legal right to reclaim surveillance footage in case of lesser crimes. Prosecutor Giorgi Kobuladze also said that the substantive Court hearing was scheduled for January 30 and that the investigation might try to gain access to the video footage in the meantime.
Kobuladze also told the journalists, that the charges are based on witness testimonies and physical examination of Gavashelishvili.
Grounds of decision pending trial
Kubuladze said the prosecution was requesting GEL 5000 bail, although the amount was reduced to GEL 2000 by the judge. He also said, the Prosecution requested to restrict the right of foreign travel due to “danger of evading justice” by Ugulava, which was based on his no-show at the preliminary trial, as well as “the previous cases when he tried to flee” from justice.
Ugulava and his lawyer, Giorgi Gelkhauri did not attend the preliminary hearing saying “they do not wish to be a part of this farce”.
Preliminary court decision controversy
The defense lawyer Sulkhan Komakhidze, assigned by the court stated that the right of Ugulava to fair trial was violated, while the restriction to foreign travel was “unjust and illegal”: „This case shows clearly that you can be assaulted for your political activities [in Georgia] and more – also be charged for this crime. I did not have the time to study the case file fully, but what I saw, does not come close to the standard of proof required in criminal cases,” Komakhidze said.
Ugulava himself said that criminal charges “are a clear indication, that Ivanishvili is engaged in total combat for preserving his power” and that this “show was staged” to prevent his foreign travel.
In September 2015 the Court found Ugulava guilty of defrauding the state and sentenced him to 4 years and 6 months in prison. In January 2017 the Court of Appeals reduced the sentence by the remaining term and released him from prison.