Transparency International Georgia released the second trial monitoring report of high-profile criminal cases
Transparency International Georgia published today the second trial monitoring report of high-profile criminal cases. The report contains information on court proceedings from the period starting July 2013 to May 2014.
The organization's observers have been attending the court hearings of cases of eight former high officials – Vano Merabishvili, Gigi Ugulava, Nikanor Melia, Bachana Akhalaia, Data Akhalaia, Nika Gvaramia, Megis Kardava and Tsezar Chocheli. It is worth noting that the court proceedings have been completed and the final verdicts have been delivered. The report also covers cases still under discussion.
- Two of the three cases concerning Vano Merabishvili have been completed and in both cases he was found guilty. On the third case, no verdict has been delivered yet as the court proceeding is still ongoing.
- Three of the five cases related to Bachana Akhalaia have been completed. He was found guilty only in one of those cases. However, he was later pardoned by President Mikheil Saakashvili.
- Cases concerning Gigi Ugulava are still under discussion.
- Monitors of our organization observed two cases over Megis Kardava. In both cases he was found guilty.
Monitoring revealed the following general trends:
- Compared with the previous monitoring period, a portion of the Prosecutor’s actions have clearly improved. Their position in some cases has been more argumentative than during the previous monitoring period.
- Compared with the previous period, the prosecution is not basing their cases solely on witness testimony. In some of the cases the prosecution has brought other important evidences.
- In some instances, witnesses were not properly separated while in the court’s building. As a result, in one of the cases, a number of witnesses were called who were waiting together in the court’s corridor wherein they were able to communicate with one another. Monitors frequently noted that witnesses were called that were speaking to each other in the court’s corridor.
- During the monitoring period a number of high ranking officials made statements which directly violated the principle of the presumption of innocence. It is possible that these instances put an indirect form of pressure on the court’s assessments. While trials were ongoing, politicians attempted to politicize the trials, which could have had an indirect effect on the judges.
- Judges held both sides liable equally in instances of misconduct. The court used sanctions (i.e. fines) in case of the prosecution and defense.
- The defense has made several unjustified public statements about the judge and prosecutors being bias.
- We made the following observations concerning specific cases:
- A number of the prosecutor’s witnesses (in Vano Merabishvili and Gigi Ugulava’s cases) were themselves accused of crimes and were the subject of ongoing criminal prosecutions. Some of the prosecutions against these witnesses were halted during the period in which they appeared as witnesses. The noted witnesses gave testimony against the former officials.
- Prosecutors at a number of trials were clearly trying to delay the trials without basis (for example, in the trials of Gigi Ugulava and Bacho Akhalaia.) In one instance, the defense also attempted to delay the trial.
- The three trial judges appointed to Bacho Akhalaia’s criminal court trials (Besik Bugianishvili, Davit Mgeliashvili, and Giorgi Darakhvelidze) were transferred to the Tbilisi city court a short period of time before the examination began, on the same day, and at the same time. This coincidence clearly raises questions. Similar practices also bring the objectivity of the trial into doubt, as it does not meet the proper standards of transparency and indicates a deficit in court’s reassignment system.
- Without Gigi Ugulava’s presence at the court hearing, he was suspended from his position as mayor. While it is true that the court has the authority to examine this kind of issue without the participation of the interested parties, the case was of significant public interest as it related to the directly elected, sitting Mayor of Tbilisi. It would have been better to have the examination of the motion with Gigi Ugulava present and with the opportunity for the defense to present arguments on the motion.
- Bacho Akhalaia was detained almost a year, while the first guilty verdict against him was delivered on October 28th 2013. The accused spent nearly a year in detention, during which time no guilty verdict had been delivered against him. It is true that this does not represent a legal violation, although it unambiguously points to a gap in legislation. Furthermore, it raises doubts as to whether it is possible that the prosecution maliciously and intentionally used the gap in legislation to ensure the detention of the accused for an extended period of time.
- A number of witnesses gave testimony against multiple former officials. For example, an individual who gave testimony against Ivane Merabishvili also appeared as a witness in Bacho Akhalaia’s case. At one of Bacho Akhalaia’s trials, it was discovered that the testimony this person provided was written on his palm.
Transparency International Georgia continues to monitor high-profile criminal cases and will present its findings in the future as well.
The report was prepared with the financial support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The views expressed in the report to not necessarily coincide with those of Sida and Transparency International Georgia is solely responsible for the report's content.