Irakli Shotadze, Georgia’s penultimate Prosecutor General, is angling for a comeback, but the controversy that led to his initial departure is far from abating.
The position became vacant as Shalva Tadumadze, previous Chief Prosecutor was tapped to join the country’s top bench at the Supreme Court for a lifetime tenure in December 2019. On January 17, the Prosecutorial Council, a body in charge of nominating the new Prosecutor General, concluded a pre-selection process among 17 candidates for further consideration. It is widely rumored that the Council is likely to nominate Shotadze, a ruling party favorite. Should the Parliament endorse him – and the ruling Georgian Dream has far more than a simple majority required – he will serve a non-renewable six-year term.
Shotadze resigned on the way of outcry at Khorava Street Murder – an incident from December 2017 that ended in violent death of two high-school students at the hands of his schoolmates – in May 2018. The special parliamentary commission created to look into the case found signs of both incompetence and an allegation of prosecutorial cover-up to shield one of former employee’s relatives, and Shotadze walked the plank. He was defiant in his farewell speech, denouncing “groundless, smeary” allegations, saying he was politically targeted by the opposition United National Movement, whose former leaders he and his colleagues put behind the bars. But he agreed to go, insisting that resignation could salvage integrity of the criminal justice system.
The ruling party politicians commended the move. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the patron and leader of the Georgian Dream party, hailed Shotadze for “an extremely honorable step, inspired by high political and moral responsibility.”
Fast forward to now, and we see the Georgian Dream officials, who salute prospects of Shotadze’s return with unwavering zeal. “I objected to his resignation in the first place and I do maintain my stance”, stated Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, endorsing Shotadze for his legacy which “humanized litigation.”
The ruling party MPs also favor Shotadze. “I do not exclude that Shotadze will be one of the candidates,” said Archil Talakvadze, Speaker of the Parliament. His deputy, Mamuka Mdinaradze, has already made up his mind, stressing that “Shotadze left no questions unanswered… If his candidacy is put forward to the Parliament, I will certainly side with him.”
Clearly, odds are stacked in Shotadze’s favor. But how does his legacy speak for him? Civil Georgia looked into Shotadze’s job record.
The Law says, that when the term of office of the Prosecutor General expires, the Prosecutorial Council launches one-month consultations with academic circles and civil society to define a pool of qualified candidates. In Shotadze’s case, it was Georgian Technical University which put forward his candidacy. Thereafter, the Council chooses at least three nominees to be voted on individually. The Council submits the elected final candidate to the Parliament. If the candidate receives 76 votes or more, she or he is appointed. If not, the selection process shall re-start from scratch.
Khorava Street Murder
On May 27, 2018, following the Court’s decision to acquit both suspects on group murder charges of Davit Saralidze, 16-year-old teenager, several thousand demonstrators poured into Tbilisi streets, marching from Prosecutor’s Office to the Parliament building. Demonstrators called for a just investigation into the murder of two teen schoolboys in December 2017. The two were stabbed to death in a brawl, which apparently involved of a dozen high school students in Tbilisi’s affluent Vera neighborhood.
Zaza Saralidze, father of one of the victim boys, said the Prosecutor’s Office, led by Shotadze, was covering up the role of their employee, Mirza Subeliani, whose nephew – Mikheil Kalandia – was the main case witness. As Saralidze persevered in his protest, and more facts came to light to prove the validity of his allegations in public eyes, Shotadze bowed to public pressure and quit. A commission was set up in the Parliament to examine criminal proceedings. The commission said Shotadze was either negligent or intentionally abused his official powers.
In their final resolution, MPs requested the Interior Ministry to launch inquiry against Kalandia. On June 6, 2018, Kalandia was arrested on charges of murder in aggravating circumstances.
Subeliani was also detained for failing to report a crime and tampering with case witnesses. Later he gained publicity when first Rustavi 2 TV, an opposition-leaning channel, and then Prosecutor’s Office, aired bits of secret audio recordings ahead of 2018 presidential elections. These tapes implied that Subeliani had acted covertly as a fixer and go-between for government officials, including Irakli Shotadze and Otar Partskhaladze. Previously top prosecutor himself (for mere six-weeks, resigned in scandal), Partskhaladze had often been said to exert oversized influence on his protégé, Shotadze.
On February 13, 2017, at an emergency presser, Shotadze made a public announcement which sent shivers running down the spine of Georgia’s devout Christians. Prosecutor’s Office had arrested Giorgi Mamaladze, archpriest of the Georgian Orthodox Church, for plotting “a murder of high-ranking cleric.” Shotadze said, a whistleblower had tipped off authorities that Mamaladze asked for help to procure natrium cyanide, a toxic substance, in order to murder a notable (unnamed) clerical official. The Chief Prosecutor added that police officers arrested Mamaladze at the Tbilisi International Airport as he was to take a flight to Berlin, where Patriarch Ilia II, the most revered person in the country, had been undergoing treatment. This fueled speculations that Patriarch was the intended victim. However, after a few days, the Prosecutor’s Office clarified that attempted murder rather targeted a person from Patriarch’s “inner circle.”
The case details remained hazy as the ensuing six-month trial was closed to the public eye. In September, the Tbilisi City Court found Giorgi Mamaladze guilty of planning a premeditated murder of Shorena Tetruashvili, influential private secretary of the Patriarch, sentencing him to nine years in jail. Mamaladze’s defense lawyers disputed court ruling and filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Public Defender’s Office of Georgia and prominent NGOs reported numerous breaches of the right to a fair trial for the convict, including violation of the presumption of innocence [by the government officials], questionable evidence and the weakness of reasoning in the Court verdict.
As things stand, Mamaladze will have to serve full sentence in prison. President Salome Zurabishvili rejected a plea by the Holy Synod (governing body of the Church) for pardon.
On May 30, 2017, Amnesty International reported that Afghan Mukhtarli, Tbilisi-based journalist had gone missing a day before. “Mukhtarli is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment after resurfacing in custody across the border in Baku, Azerbaijan”, said prominent human rights organization, condemning a “harrowing cross-border abduction.” Amnesty International insisted that Georgian authorities were complicit in Mukhtarli’s kidnapping and forced return to Azerbaijan. [Now former] President Margvelashvili spoke of journalist’s abduction, as “a serious challenge to our statehood and our sovereignty.” Soon Interior Ministry launched inquiry to ascertain factual circumstances. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili called on the population to bide time and not to jump to conclusions.
In July 2017, Prosecutor General’s Office took over the investigation, as senior security officials responsible for border control and counterintelligence got sacked. This case has been dragging on since, without an outcome. In May 2018, prior to his resignation, Irakli Shotadze announced that Georgian investigatory bodies had interviewed scores of witnesses and examined a batch of CCTV recordings. However, Shotadze told, “no evidence was obtained to elucidate the public of what [really] happened.” For two consecutive years, U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report has been raising concerns over the handling of Mukhtarli’s case by Georgian authorities.
Opposition and Civil Society Outcry
No surprise then, that Shotadze’s potential return has been met with consternation.
“This [process of nominating new Prosecutor] is Ivanishvili’s carousel” said Mamuka Khazaradze, leader for “Lelo for Georgia” opposition party, and slammed GDs recent habit of elevating the officials who left office in disgrace. Gigi Ugulava, leader of “European Georgia”, argued that Shotadze’s reappointment boils down to “Partskhaladze’s reanimation and restoration of everything that is unjust – which was the reason for the public demands that prompted Shotadze to resign [in the first place].”
Georgian human rights watchdogs are equally critical. One of them, EMC, stressed that on Shotadze’s watch, the Prosecutor’s Office had experienced “systemic failures.” Coalition for Independent and Transparent Judiciary, which unites over 40 CSOs, noted that the process for Prosecutor General’s selection has been politically biased, arguing that the government has failed repeatedly to appoint a person of high public trust and reputation to this position.
Recent kerfuffle in Tbilisi courthouse over Kalandia’s trial suggests that trail of Shotadze’s legacy has not yet gone cold. Zaza Saralidze himself feels apathetic about Shotadze’s comeback, provided that justice is served for his son’s murderers.
Whatever the final outcome, Shotadze’s nomination is a sign of the Georgian Dream’s political hubris – or the dramatic shortness of its personnel options, which does not bode well for Georgia’s justice system.