Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who is visiting Tbilisi for the first time since his abduction from the Georgian capital in May 2017, said Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili and then-Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili had prior knowledge of his abduction “ordered” by Baku.
Citing an Azerbaijani Government insider source, Mukhtarli claimed Tbilisi received a bribe of USD 3 million from Azerbaijan for handing him over. The kidnappers wore badges of the Georgian Criminal Police, he added.
Mukhtarli, an outspoken critic of the Azerbaijani Government, went missing from Tbilisi on May 29, 2017, only to resurface a day later in Baku custody. Amnesty International reported that the Azerbaijani journalist was “at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.” The journalist was sentenced to six years in prison in January 2018 on charges of illegal border crossing, smuggling money, and police disobedience. He was released from Azerbaijani prison in March 2020.
Having received asylum in Germany, Mukhtarli said he attempted to visit Tbilisi some months ago but his airplane ticket was canceled by Georgian Airways. The company has stated that it had to refuse services to Mukhtarli due to coronavirus restrictions, as Georgia did not allow travel by citizens of Azerbaijan at the time.
Mukhtarli made remarks today before testifying at the Prosecutor’s Office, which has led the probe into his disappearance since 2017 without substantial results. Mukhtarli said prior to visiting the Prosecutor’s Office that he did not expect meaningful cooperation from them, but added that he would still provide information about persons involved in the abduction, and the route his kidnappers took from Tbilisi to Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli said afterward that he could not testify because the prosecution provided a Turkish language translator instead of Azerbaijani. He said he will return tomorrow at the Prosecutor’s Office.
Georgia is leading the investigation under Article 143 of the Criminal Code, involving unlawful imprisonment. The Prosecutor’s Office initially took over the case from the Interior Ministry, after Georgia’s senior security and border control officials quit their posts over the incident.
U.S. State Department has repeatedly raised the issue of dragged-out criminal proceedings in its annual Human Rights Reports. In the 2020 account, it notably said that impunity over Mukhtarli’s “abduction and rendition” from Georgia remained a problem.
Ex-PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili denied the allegation as “absurd” and “absolutely groundless.” Ex-PM Ivanishvili did not respond to the accusations so far, however.
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