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President pardons prisoners of defence ministry case

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, January 30
President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili pardoned five former employers of the Ministry of Defence, who were detained in 2014 and whose arrest led to then-Defence Minister Irakli Alasania’s removal from the post and his leaving the ruling Georgian Dream coalition.

One of the now-former prisoners stressed that President did what could not be done by anyone else in terms of their arrest.

Explaining the reasons of the pardon, the President’s political secretary Pikria Chikhradze said the Chief Prosecutor’s Office has “failed” to provide genuine evidence at any stage of trials that the people really embezzled 4.1 million GEL of budgetary money.

The opposition and the civil sector welcomed the President’s action, as the opposition believed the accused were innocent and the NGOs raised many question marks over the case.

One of the majority leaders, ex-deputy interior minister Archil Talakvadze, stated “all institutions played their roles in the case and the process was free and open to the public”.

One former and four serving officials of the Ministry of Defence were detained on October 28, 2014 and charged with misspending GEL 4.1 million in the dealing process for fiber optic cables from the Silknet Company.

Then-Defence Minister Irakli Alasania was in France at the time, in order to negotiate an agreement with the country for purchasing air-defence systems for Georgia.

Alasania told The Messenger at that time that the founder of the Georgian Dream coalition, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, was hostile to the air-defence system negotiations and the arrest of his employees served the aim to stop him [Alasania].

Immediately after coming back to Georgia, Alasania stated Georgia’s European course was at risk and soon after was fired by then-Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

This led to Alasania’s Free Democrats party leaving the ruling coalition and stressing that the defence ministry employees were arrested on political grounds.

The accused were released on bail in June 2015, but arrested again in May 2016 after a ruling by Tbilisi City Court, which sentenced them to a seven year prison term.

Most recently, the Court of Appeals of Tbilisi re-qualified the embezzlement charges and found the five guilty of exceeding official powers, reducing their seven-year prison term to one year and six months.

GizoGhlonti, released after the pardon, appealed to the Government “to take care of the judicial system”.

“Georgia can’t be developed if justice isn’t restored in all directions,” he said.

“It is not essential whether it was a political decision or not [from the president’s side],” majority leader ArchilTalakvadzestated after the pardon.

“Perhaps two things are essential - first, how the decision affected the lives of these people, and it is a fact that they will return to their homes, which is a joy to their families and relatives, and the second, the quality of justice; I think that the competitiveness of the parties was provided. The public could follow the trials; it was an open process,” the majority leader said.