Ex-Intelligence Officer Talks Spying on Opponents, Recalls June 20 Protest Details

Late on March 21, Mtavari Arkhi TV aired reportedly a year-and-half old interview with now-imprisoned Ivane Gulashvili, allegedly a former intelligence officer, in which he spoke about controversial orders he received during June 20 unrest in 2019, as well as about spying on political and religious leaders.

The interview came a day after TV Pirveli, another channel critical to the Georgian Dream government, aired a story about Gulashvili. The channel said Gulashvili was imprisoned, among others, for having disclosed confidential files.

Wide-ranging and somewhat incoherent reporting contained some explosive allegations but also included hints and indications, such as the precise dates and times of some allegedly covert shots, that were not apparently intended for the general viewers. The release of these files coincides with an acute political crisis, but also with the abrupt departure of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who formerly served as the Interior Minister. It also comes in the context of the recent scandal concerning the release of audio recordings implicating current prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, and a senior security official, Anzor Chubinidze. Many commentators allege that the recent “news dumps” point at growing tensions within the governing team. cannot attest to the veracity of any claims made in these recordings.

Gulashvili reportedly worked first under Nikoloz Sharadze, the current head of the Interior Ministry’s Border Police, in the Security Service and later under Kakhaber Sabanadze, still serving as the Deputy Interior Minister, where he claimed to have been an expert-criminalist pro forma, while in fact being tasked with surveillance. “I have many recordings for which they might kill me,” Ivane Gulashvili said in the interview.

Political surveillance orders

Gulashvili stated that in 2014, under Sharadze, he was tasked to sneak into a house, that he later learned to have belonged to Anna Dolidze, Deputy Defense Minister in 2015 – 2016, to install the surveillance cameras. According to Gulashvili, they removed cameras later having recorded scenes of her private life.

Dolidze, who now plans to establish a political party, told Mtavari Arkhi TV that she was never blackmailed, but once received a message implying she “was taped” having conversations “involving corruption.”

Gulashvili also said he was tasked by Sharadze to introduce a computer virus into the computer of Vagif Akperov, then Sheikh of Administration of Muslims of Georgia, aiming to collect personal information about him. Akperov resigned in early 2014, citing pressure from the security authorities. Commenting for the program, Akperov said he was blackmailed with the release of covert recordings.

Orders given during June 20 unrest

Gulashvili, who reportedly worked under Deputy Interior Minister Kakhaber Sabanadze by 2019, recalled that during the controversial June 20, 2019 rally outside the Parliament building in Tbilisi, Sabanadze tasked him to set the video screen which was used to broadcast the speeches of the leaders to the rally on fire.

According to Gulashvili, he just cut the power cable but declined to set it on fire, fearing an explosion. TV Pirveli footage offered a slightly different version, alleging Sabanadze gave orders to destroying both video screens and the sound system, which prevented the leaders from communicating with protesters once the unrest began.

Gulashvili also alleged that afterward he was ordered to retrieve and destroy “seven hard disk drives” from the parliamentary surveillance video system with the footage from the night of unrest. He claimed the Prosecutor’s Office tried to copy those recordings but “orders came” to stop. “Only [then Interior Minister Giorgi] Gakharia and Sabanadze could give those orders, nobody else”, Gulashvili claimed, saying “I received the order from Sabanadze,” Gulashvili asserted.

Gulashvili further alleged that on June 20 night, he was also ordered to install a surveillance GPS tracker under the private car of Giorgi Rurua, now imprisoned shareholder of Mtavari Arkhi TV. Rurua was arrested several months after on charges of carrying a concealed firearm. The opposition considers him a “political prisoner” and demands his release.

TV Pirveli’s March 20 footage also touched upon Sabanadze. The channel showed a covertly recorded screengrab – allegedly from covert video footage taken in his office on October 21, 2019. This shot was used to argue that Sabanadze, close to then newly-elected PM Gakharia, was being spied on by other security officers since the footage was taken inside the Ministry of Interior building.

TV Pirveli also claimed that a stock of the secret files was leaked from the State Security Service, containing recordings of conversations between high-ranking officials, video recordings of alleged wrongdoings by the security officials, and the list of State Security Service’s secret agents. The report says these recordings contain drone footage of the Interior Ministry’s Special Tasks Department’s training and aired excerpts of this footage.

The channel also reported that Prosecutor’s Office agreed on a plea bargain with Gulashvili, and decreased his prison term from nine years to two. Gulashvili is allegedly expected to leave the Rustavi jail in nine months.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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