|MP Valery Gelbakhiani in Patarkatsishvili’s
campaign headquarters in Tbilisi on December 21.
The statement was made after the General Prosecutor’s Office declared MP Valery Gelbakhiani, the head of presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili’s campaign headquarters, as an official suspect in a conspiracy to overthrow the government.
“Materials available to us suggests that there is a very serious threat posed against the Georgian state. This threat has existed and it still exists,” Burjanadze said. “But I want to state bluntly: the Georgian authorities will not let anyone take away the right to a free election from the Georgian people.”
She also warned that “any political force” trying to achieve political goals which are directed against Georgia’s national interests “will be appropriately punished in accordance with the law.”
She said she had already met with opposition representatives to inform them of the matter. “I think it is very important that every political force take a position on recent developments,” she said.
“I recommend that no one use illegal means. Anyone who try to endanger the Georgian state, its stability and the security of its citizens will be dealt with appropriately in accordance with the law.”
She also said that law enforcement agencies would carry out “a professional and objective investigation” into the coup plot allegations.
“Although the threat to the elections and the threat of post-election destabilization hasn't fully been averted, the Georgia people have have no reason to panic. We, however, need to be cautious,” Burjanadze said.
Meanwhile, presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists on December 24: “Everyone should remain calm; I call for unity; we will bring this fight to its end.”
The General Prosecutor’s Office said that the investigation into “an attempt to forcefully overthrow the government” was launched on December 17, after Irakli Kodua, head of the Interior Ministry’s Special Operations Department (SOD), notified investigators that a former judge, Marina Gabunia (she has also been declared as a suspect), and MP Gelbakhiani had tried to bribe him in exchange for taking part in the alleged conspiracy.
Later on December 24, Kodua claimed in an interview with Rustavi 2 TV that during the meeting with Patarkatsishvili in London, the business tycoon had offered him USD 100 million in exchange for taking part in the plot.
With Kodua’s cooperation, the General Prosecutor’s Office said, investigators were able to covertly record two meetings between him and MP Gelbakhiani during which the latter tells the Interior Ministry official that the plan was “to thwart the election” and “to trigger mass unrest in Tbilisi and in the entire country.”
The video tape, aired on Georgian TV, shows Gelbakhiani telling Kodua that his task would be to arrest Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili during the planned unrest. Kodua then asks how he can be so sure that people would go out onto the streets on January 6 - an essential part of the plot. Gelbakhiani replies that “a lot of money will be spent.” “We will have 80,000 paid activists in our structures, which we are currently creating, so at least 200,000 people will go out onto the streets,” he adds.
Gelbakhiani also tells Kodua that the results of the election were less important than the creation of the impression of vote rigging, which, he says, is necessary to stir up unrest. “It will be a staged show,” he says.
MP Gelbakhiani also says that he was in contact with “Gachechiladze’s team” – a reference to presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, who is backed by the nine-party opposition coalition.
A second meeting with Kodua took place on December 21 after Gelbakhiani had arrived from London, where he had consulted with Patarkatsishvili.
MP Gelbakhiani has confirmed that he met with Kodua, but he claimed that the tape was edited. He told Rustavi 2 TV by phone that his main goal was to have an ally within the Interior Ministry so as to prevent the break-up of possible protest rallies after the January 5 election.
Political figures from the nine-party opposition coalition have denied having any involvement in the alleged plot.
Davit Usupashvili, the leader of the Republican Party, said that the bloc had relations with Patarkatsishvili “and also with other presidential candidates” but these relations were mainly about election tactics, which had nothing to do “with what we have seen today.”
“We are only preparing for January 5 [the election day] and these are all attempts by the authorities to distract public attention from [January 5] to other issues,” Kakha Kukava, the leader of the Conservative Party, said.
MP Zurab Tkemaladze, the leader of the Industrialist Party, which backs Davit Gamkrelidze’s presidential candidacy, said the issue was “a very serious case” which needed an impartial investigation. He also added, however: “It is so difficult now to understand who is playing whose game.”
Shalva Natelashvili, a presidential candidate and leader of the Labor Party, said the tape was fabricated. “It is impossible that Gelbakhiani was plotting a coup,” he said.
“The most surprising thing about this story is why MP Gelbakhiani speaks so openly, because everyone knows that everything is listened to and recorded by the law enforcers in this country,” MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party said.