Ex-Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said he had been personally ordered by the president to liquidate business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili. In a late-night TV interview, Okruashvili also made allegations which challenge the official version of events surrounding late PM Zurab Zhvania’s death. He went on to speak about how he had planned to reclaim South Ossetia. He also attacked Giga Bokeria, an influential lawmaker from the ruling party.
Speaking live on Imedi TV’s talk show On the Air late on September 25, Okruashvili picked up where he had left off earlier in the day, when, during the formal launch of his political party - Movement For United Georgia - he had lashed out at his former close ally, Mikheil Saakashvili.
In what appears to be the most serious accusation ever levelled against President Saakashvili, Okruashvili alleged that in July 2005 he was personally ordered by the president to liquidate Badri Patarkatsishvili, a business tycoon. He said that Saakashvili had “a concrete plan” on how to do it.
“Saakashvili told me that we should get rid of him [Patarkatsishvili] in the same way as happened to Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, who was killed in a car bomb attack,” Okruashvili said.
Okruashvili said he subsequently, via an unnamed non-Georgian, passed on the information about Saakashvili’s plan to the Americans. “After that Saakashvili never talked to me about getting rid of Patarkatsishvili,” Okruashvili said.
"He still considers [Patarkatsishvili] a threat," he added.
He also accused Saakashvili of ordering an attack on Valeri Gelashvili, a former lawmaker from the opposition Republican Party. Gelashvili was badly beaten by armed men in downtown Tbilisi in July 2005.
“Saakashvili didn't want to get rid of him [Gelashvili],” Okruashvili said. “He only ordered to beat him up and the task was perfectly executed by [Interior Minister Vano] Merabishvili.”
‘Fabricated Evidence into Zhvania’s Death’
Speaking in the interview with Imedi TV, which is co-owned by Badri Patarkatsishvili, Okruashvili also claimed that evidence surrounding the death of the late prime minister, Zurab Zhvania, was fabricated.
“I am not saying that Zhvania was murdered,” Okruashvili said. “But what I can say at this point is that Zhvania’s corpse was actually brought into the flat where it was apparently discovered.”
According to the official preliminary conclusions (the General Prosecutor’s Office still hasn't published its final findings) the late PM died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater. The heater had been improperly installed in the apartment where Zhvania’s dead body was reportedly found on February 3, 2005 in Saburtalo district of the capital, Tbilisi. Along with Zhvania, Deputy Governor of Kvemo Kartli region Raul Usupov was also found dead in the same apartment, also reportedly killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Relatives of Zhvania and Usupov, who believe that both men were murdered, however, claim that the corpses were moved to the concerned apartment as no fingerprints from the two men were found there.
Okruashvili, who was Defense Minister at the time of Zhvania’s death, said he would not say anything else about the case at this stage.
‘Reclaiming S.Ossetia through Small-Scale Operation’
Okruashvili said that he, as Defence Minister in Saakashvili’s government, had “tolerated persistent injustice” in the hope that he would at least be able to achieve one major goal - the reintegration of breakaway South Ossetia.
The former defense minister said he had had a plan, which, he said, involved only “a small-scale operation and would have caused only a minimum of casualties.” It did not, he stressed, entail a large scale military confrontation.
“Only four people knew about it: me, Saakashvili, Merabishvili and [General Prosecutor Zurab] Adeishvili,” Okruashvili said. “Maybe Giga Bokeria [an influential lawmaker] also knew about it; I don't know for sure.”
The plan, if executed, would, he claimed, have seen South Ossetia reintegrated by at least mid 2006.
“It was quite possible with a small scale operation at that time,” Okruashvili said. “But it is impossible now, because now they [the South Ossetian authorities] have had a significant military build-up there.”
He said that President Saakashvili’s “unprincipled” position had foiled the plan.
In December 2005 and then several months later, in 2006, before his resignation from the cabinet, Okruashvili said that he planned to celebrate the 2007 New Year in Tskhinvali, the capital of breakaway South Ossetia. Commentators said that Saakashvili’s decision to move Okruashvili last November from the Defense Ministry to the Ministry of Economy was largely because of Okruashvili’s perceived hawkish stance on South Ossetia.
Okruashvili also complained that Saakashvili had failed to denounce and withdraw from the treaties legally underpinning the presence of Russian peacekeeping forces in Georgia’s conflict zones.
“In his UN address [in 2006] Saakashvili had initially planned to denounce these agreements, but he changed his mind at the last minute,” Okruashvili said.
The former defense minister was particularly scathing of the government's attempts at winning hearts and minds in South Ossetia through Dimitri Sanakoev, an ethnic Ossetian who now chairs the Tbilisi-backed South Ossetian provisional administration.
He said that Sanakoev had no respect among the population of the region. “Just show me one Ossetian whom he [has convinced] to defect [from the secessionist regime]; there is not even a single person, except for the Karkusov brothers,” Okruashvili said, referring to Uruzmag Karkusov and Jemal Karkusov, Deputy Economy Minister and Interior Minister in Sanakoev’s administration, respectively.
“Sanakoev will yield no results at all,” he added.
Okruashvili also said there were “two major decision-makers” in the country: President Saakashvili and his, as he put it, “major ideologist,” Giga Bokeria.
He said that Bokeria was personally behind a highly controversial decision to demolish a church in Adjara.
Okruashvili then continued to attack Saakashvili by saying that his family has gained “billions” since he became President. He alleged that Georgian Railways had been handed over to businessman Rezo Sharangia, whom Okruashvili described as Saakashvili’s “personal treasurer.” He also alleged that Saakashvili’s cousin, Nika Alasania, had control of the import of munitions for the armed forces. “All the arms imported from Israel are under his personal control,” Okruashvili said.
Gigi Bokeria on September 26 dismissed Okruashvili’s allegations, saying the former minister was “a frightened fantasist.”