Who is the Presiding Judge on the Nika Gvaramia Case? - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

Who is the Presiding Judge on the Nika Gvaramia Case?

18 May, 2022

On May 16, Tbilisi City Court Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze sentenced Nika Gvaramia, General Director of the Mtavari TV Channel, to three years and six months imprisonment for abuse of power while managing TV Channel Rustavi 2. The court ruling has drawn sharp criticism from both the civil society, the ombudsman and international partners.

Lasha Chkhikvadze has been a judge for 15 years: from 2007 to 2013 he worked in various district and city courts; On February 6, 2013, he was appointed a judge of the Tbilisi City Court, and in 2019 he was appointed to a position for life until he reaches retirement age. There are many questions regarding Lasha Chkhikvadze's judicial activities. The criminal cases of Gigi Ugulava (former mayor of Tbilisi), Bacho Akhalaia (former Minister of Defense), and Irakli Okruashvili (former Minister of Internal Affairs and Defense) are linked to the name of Judge Chkhikvadze.

Questions Regarding the Objectivity and Impartiality of the Judge

On December 15, 2021, Nika Gvaramia filed a motion challenging the Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze, alleging that Zaza Gvelesiani, a witness in the same case, was a close friend of a judge. Zaza Gvelesiani is the director of the media holding that manages Rustavi 2 and owns the right to broadcasting. Accordingly, the director of the holding had a direct financial interest in the outcome of the case. Although Judge Chkhikvadze did not deny his close friendship with Zaza Gvelesiani, he did not grant the motion to dismiss himself from the case.

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure and Bangalore Principles of the Judicial Conduct, a judge may not participate in the hearing of a case if there are circumstances that cast doubt on his or her objectivity and impartiality.

Allegations Regarding the Possible Influence over the Judge

Allegations against Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze have been repeatedly voiced. The case concerns the car accident that took place on January 22, 2015, where Lasha Chkhikvadze was involved. Six cars collided in the accident, several people were injured and one died. According to the prosecutor's office, no culpable actions of the participants of incident were discovered and on May 8, 2015, the investigation was terminated. In a special statement, the prosecutor's office denied that "any manipulation is taking place in the terminated case, as well as influencing someone, specifically Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze."

High-profile Cases Related to Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze's Name

Gigi Ugulava and Davit Kezerashvili Case

The prosecutor's office accused Gigi Ugulava and Davit Kezerashvili of misappropriating a large amount of property. Two days before the verdict was announced, the Constitutional Court of Georgia declared the artificial extension of pre-trial detention for Ugulava unconstitutional as he has been detained for 9 months without a guilty verdict. As a result of this decision, Gigi Ugulava was released but the very next day Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze found Ugulava guilty in another case (so called Tbilservice Group Case) and sentenced him to 4 years and 6 months of imprisonment.

According to the NGOs, such a coincidence in time and the announcement of the verdict in an expedited manner showed that the government's purpose was to return Gigi Ugulava to the detention facility immediately.

Bacho Akhalaia Case

In 2013, three cases against Bacho Akhalaia were heard in court and one of the presiding judge was Lasha Chkhikvadze.  The process of selecting judges for these cases raised questions as judges in all three cases were transferred from different courts at the same time. Under the legislation at the time, the court president  could, only in exceptional cases, delegate cases to specific judges.

Irakli Okruashvili Case

Lasha Chkhikvadze is presiding judge on Irakli Okruashvili case. On November 19, 2019, a charge was brought against Irakli Okruashvili. The Prosecutor’s Office is accusing Mr. Okruashvili of abuse of official powers in connection with a crime allegedly committed in 2004 when he was the Minister of Internal Affairs. It is noteworthy that the indictment took place several days before the expiration of the 15-year statue of limitation.

The initiation of prosecution against Irakli Okruashvili was preceded by his scandalous statements in which he openly stated that he had helped the authorities in criminal cases against high-ranking officials of the previous government. In addition, he openly stated that in 2016 he had received a demand to abandon his clams in connection with the Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company, which he refused to do so.