Mirza Subeliani’s Case: Objective Justice or Pre-Determined Decision
On March 4, 2019, the court made its decision towards one of the people involved in the murder case on Khorava street, Mirza Subeliani, and gave the defendant a prison sentence of 1 year and 1 month. This decision raises further suspicions of an informal influence in the case and the possible involvement of the court. The Khorava street case and the role of the high-ranking officials have once again intensified the feeling that influential individuals can manipulate the process of justice in the country. Transparency International Georgia presents significant findings related to this case.
Murder of two minors and the decision of the court
In December 2017, two minors were murdered on Khorava Street in Tbilisi. On May 31, 2018, the Tbilisi City Court made its decision about the case, according to which one of the persons accused in the murder of David Saralidze was exonerated, while the second person was charged with attempted murder. To date, it is unclear who killed Davit Saralidze. A few weeks before the decision wade made, Rustavi 2 TV published security cam footage which showed how Mirza Subeliani was in the house of one of his relatives, who was involved in the Khorava street accident and thus had access to specific pieces of evidence. The footage also allegedly shows how the family, which Subeliani was visiting that day, was destroying specific pieces of evidence.
Start of Mass-scale Protests
Mass-scale protests demanding for the resignation of the Government started following the decision of the Tbilisi City Court. The father of one of the murdered minors, Zaza Saralidze, was leading the protests. Zaza Saralidze spoke about the influence of Mirza Subeliani during the investigation. According to Saralidze, due to the influence of specific persons, Subeliani covered up the real criminals, destroyed and tempered the evidence.
Who is Mirza Subeliani?!
As it is publicly known, Mirza Subeliani worked as Prosecutor during the rule of the United National Movement. After the change of the government, he was appointed as the Head of the General Inspection at the Ministry of Corrections. There were many media reports that he was a relative of then-Minister of Corrections, Sozar Subari, who had a hand in his appointment. Sozar Subari denied these claims and stated that Mirza Subeliani was appointed on the basis of professional merit.
Mirza Subeliani is also associated with the 2013 case of the murdered prisoner in the Geguti colony, Levan Kortava. 27-year old Kortava passed after sustaining injuries from a beating. At that time, Mirza Subeliani was the Head of the General Inspection under the Ministry of Corrections, Probation and Legal Assistance. Days after Kortava passed away, the Ministry released two contradicting versions of his death. According to the first version, the prisoner tumbled on stairs in the hospital, while the other version stated there was a fight between the prisoners and that Kortava sustained deadly injuries as a result.
According to information published by the media, Mirza Subeliani is also associated with the May 26 case. He was the Prosecutor of a case where he charged two protestors with assault on an unknown individual. In both cases, the charges were proven against the defendants due to Prosecutor Subeliani’s efforts.
It is widely believed by the public that Mirza Subeliani has information related to the removal of ex-Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili from his cell. The Strasbourg Human Rights Court has released a verdict that there had been a violation of Article 18 and ordered the state to investigate this case. To date, the government has not investigated the case. There is an opinion that Mirza Subeliani exerted influence over the investigation process of the Khorava Street case due to him holding secret information related to the removal of Vano Merabishvili from the cell. Nino Lomjaria, the Public Defender, has spoken how closely these two cases are intertwined.
Mirza Subeliani is the father of one of the persons involved in the Khorava Street case and an uncle of another. On the day of the murder, Subeliani worked in a high-ranking position in the Prosecutor’s Office and resigned voluntarily a few days after the incident. According to Zaza Saralidze, Mirza Subeliani was protecting and covering up for persons involved in the murder, while the government, in turn, covered up for Mirza Subeliani.
The resignation of the Chief Prosecutor
The Chief Prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze, resigned against the backdrop of mass-scale protests in Tbilisi. He was replaced by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s former lawyer, Shalva Tadumadze.
New Investigation of the Case and Mirza Subeliani’s Arrest
Against the backdrop of a strong public protest, the Ministry of Internal Affairs launched a new investigation into the murder case and, following the calls by the public and Zaza Saralidze, arrested Mirza Subeliani.
Mirza Subeliani was charged with failure to report the crime in spite of the fact that the temporary investigative commission created within the Parliament found that Subeliani was also complicit in a number of other criminal charges (misuse of a power of office, exertion of influence on witnesses and obstructing investigation). According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mirza Subeliani is guilty of failure to notify the law enforcements about the details of the crime that occurred on Khorava Street on December 1, 2017. The court later reclassified the charges to concealment of a crime.
Creation of the Temporary Investigative Commission
A temporary investigation commission was created in the Parliament due to the high level of public interest and mass-scale protests. The majority of the members in the commission were members of the opposition party European Georgia. The commission prepared findings, according to which the commission found a number of serious violations during the investigation phase. Based on the information and witness interrogations, the commission concluded that “the investigation into the Khorava Street case started in a proper manner and the participants of the incident were promptly identified, however, the investigation was derailed after Mirza Subeliani showed up”. Moreover, the commission identified one more possible participant in the incident and has issued a recommendation to start an investigation in this regard.
The document published the commission was not supported by the Georgian Dream, who instead presented alternative findings. According to these alternative findings, “there is no evidence to suggest the existence of another participant who had to be criminally charged for delivering the killing blow to Davit Saralidze”. The Parliament approved the alternative findings document.
Assessment of the Public Defender on the Khorava Street Case
The Public Defender was given the Khorava Street case for an assessment. The Public Defender’s office analyzed the evidences of the case, quality of the investigation and declared the following in its findings: “One or two components of abuse of official powers is evident: negligence of duties, or abuse of powers, depending on what signs are behind the actions of the subjective parties – deliberate ineffective investigation or negligence, lack of professionalism and/or negligence disposition of duties”.
Dissemination of Secretly Recorded Audio Recordings
On October 14, 2018, audio recordings were published which allegedly included a discussion between Mirza Subeliani, Georgian Dream MP Viktor Japaridze and Dato Tsukhishvili, a former high-ranking official of the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons and former employee of the General Inspection. In the recording, Mirza Subeliani speaks about a number of criminal acts. The recording leaves the impression that Subeliani gave his consent to go to prison. In the recording, he is heard as saying that he holds a significant number of evidence of illegal activity by the Georgian Dream. Namely, he talks about kidnapping and torture. He also mentions a number of high-profile cases that the government ‘took care of’ for him. Quite possibly, Subeliani has information about the removal of Vano Merabishvili from his cell. In the recording, he expresses disapproval of him having to go to prison and allegedly asks Viktor Japaridze to provide this information to the representatives of the government. In the same recording, Subeliani also states that he knew beforehand what sentence the court would issue against him. It is clear from the recording that he expected the court to sentence him to 1 year in prison. Subeliani also mentioned ‘buying” a suspended sentence.
Reaction of the Prosecution on the Secret Audio Recording
On October 15, the Prosecutor’s Office released a statement that they had started the investigation in several directions related to the secret audio recording, including illegal recording, blackmail, and abuse of office. The Prosecutor’s Office also had a version that the recording was staged and deliberately released to the public. The Prosecutor’s Office decided to involve the respective experts to confirm the authenticity of the recording. They also stated that due to the high public interest, the Prosecutor’s Office would provide systematic updates about the investigation to the public. However, the public still does not know what investigative mechanisms were carried out in regards to the high-profile cases named in the secret audio recording and how these investigations ended.
On October 16, two days after their statement was released, the Prosecutor’s Office released one more audio recording, in which Mirza Subeliani now stated that he was ready to say lies “to protect himself”, namely to lie that he had some evidence on high-profile cases that would damage the reputation of the government. This prompted public opinion that this recording could have been created after the first one was released. This opinion was based on the fact that Viktor Japaridze visited Mirza Subeliani after Rustavi 2 TV announced the release of scandalous audio recordings. It is particularly noteworthy that Viktor Japaridze visited Mirza Subeliani on October 14, which was a weekend day that also happened to be a public holiday - the Day of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. FactCheck took interest in this case and discovered that from November 2016 to date that this was the only instance out of 156 orders by the Chairperson of the Parliament that issued a permit to enter the penitentiary institution on a weekend day.
The decision of the Court on Mirza Subeliani’s Case
The court made its decision on Mirza Subeliani’s case on March 4, 2019, and sentenced the defendant to 1 year and 1 month of prison for concealment of a crime. It is important to note that in the first audio recording, Subeliani spoke exactly about how the court would sentence him to 1 year in prison.
In conclusion, it can be said that the joint analysis of the decision of the court and the information available from the audio recordings (provided these recordings are authentic) raises further suspicions about informal influence on the case and the existence of systematic issues within the justice system.