- Georgia responded by saying it was “surprised” by French MFA’s statement
The French Foreign Ministry said it was “surprised” that the Georgian authorities made public secret information, part of an ongoing investigation in France, about possible ties between a “Georgian opposition” figure and Georgian criminal groups operating in France.
The Foreign Ministry says in its statement that the disclosed information is part of a case, which is currently being investigated in France and the French authorities have not authorized to disclose this information and even were not entitled to do so.
“In a sensitive pre-election context, which has been further worsened after revelation of cases of torture in the Georgian penitentiary, use of any case pending investigation can affect proper conduct of elections. France calls once again on the Georgian authorities to spare no efforts for holding elections peacefully,” the French Foreign Ministry said.
Georgia’s chief prosecutor, Murtaz Zodelava, announced on September 25 that based on information, provided by the French National Gendarmerie, investigation was ongoing into the alleged links of ex-state minister Giorgi Khaindrava with French-based Georgian criminal authorities, or as they are called, ‘thieves-in-law’.
The chief prosecutor’s office distributed to media outlets information, which, Zodelava said, was “a precise Georgian translation” of information provided by the French National Gendarmerie”. This information, which also includes screenshots from video surveillance, alleges that Khaindrava met in France with a Georgian “thieve-in-law” Revaz Lortkipanidze on November 9, 2011 to ask for criminal authorities’ help in parliamentary elections with finances and possibly with weapons too and in return Khaindrava promised to secure his return back to Georgia and “restoration of influence” of ‘thieves-in-law’ in Georgia. Khaindrava, who was state minister for conflict resolution issues in 2004-2006, was with various opposition groups and parties after quitting the government, but has not been involved in active politics since 2010.
Georgian Deputy Justice Minister, Tina Burjaliani, said the Georgian authorities were “surprised” by the statement of the French Foreign Ministry.
“First of all, I want to once again thank the French National Gendarmerie and all the relevant French agencies, with which we have been actively cooperating recently, for providing the information, as well as for the cooperation,” she said.
“At the same time, we are surprised with the statement of the French Foreign Ministry. The French Foreign Ministry and generally the [French] diplomatic services were not involved at any stage of this cooperation between Georgian and French law enforcement agencies,” Burjaliani said.
“Cooperation and mutual assistance was carried out under the European Convention, which regulates mutual assistance in criminal cases. In particular, article 13 of this Convention directly envisages that the relevant agencies of the two countries have direct communication and direct cooperation,” she said.
She also said that “since the case concerns issues of national security importance” the Georgian law enforcement agencies “have not undertaken any commitment before the relevant French authorities at any stage of cooperation about confidentiality of the information.”
“I want to stress that neither the French National Gendarmerie nor the French judge, who sanctioned handing of this information over to the Georgian side, have ever demanded the Georgian side in any official communication to observe confidentiality. Therefore, the cooperation, which took place between the French National Gendarmerie and Georgian prosecutor’s office, is fully in compliance with the international standards regulating mutual assistance in legal issues between the two countries. I want to once again thank the French National Gendarmerie and all other [French] structures, which have actively cooperated with the Georgian law enforcement agencies,” Burjaliani said.
Georgian investigators were questioning Khaindrava for about three hours late on September 25; after the questioning Khaindrava told journalists that investigators were interested in his ties with Lortkipanidze; Khaindrava said that Lortkipanidze is his childhood friend whom he met last year in France. He questioned authenticity of the information, alleging that it was a fabrication by the Georgian chief prosecutor’s office. The police said that Khaindrava’s questioning would continue on September 27.