Kutaisi City Court turned down on September 25 defense lawyers’ motion requesting release of ex-PM and former interior minister Vano Merabishvili from pre-trial detention.
The judge has also declined a motion for dropping criminal proceedings and set the criminal case for trial upon its merits, scheduled to start on October 7.
Ex-healthcare minister and now governor of Kakheti region, Zurab Tchiaberashvili, is a co-defendant in to the same case, which involves criminal charges into alleged funneling of over GEL 5 million of public funds into UNM party’s election campaign last year, when Merabishvili served as PM and Tchiaberashvili as the healthcare minister. The both deny charges as politically motivated.
Unlike Merabishvili, whom the court in Kutaisi sent to pre-trial detention on May 22, Tchiaberashvili is not in custody after he was released on GEL 20,000 bail on May 23. Defense lawyers were also requesting removing bail from Tchiaberashvili, like their other motions, this too was rejected by the judge on September 25.
“There is neither practical nor theoretical possibility whatsoever for Ivane Merabishvili… to destroy any piece of evidence as the investigation, according to the criminal procedure code, will no longer be able to gather any additional evidence and already available pieces of evidence have already been presented before the court,” defense lawyer Giorgi Chiviashvili told the judge while presenting a motion requesting for Merabishvili release from the pre-trial detention.
Prosecution argued that if freed, Merabishvili could have possibly influenced on those witnesses, which will be summoned for questioning when the trial into merits starts on October 7, 2013.
Merabishvili told the judge before the latter announced its decision, rejecting defense lawyers’ motion, that he was not expecting him to rule in favor of his release from pre-trial detention because of “pressure” exerted on the Kutaisi City Court.
During the preliminary court hearing, which was held in three sittings, prosecution presented a list of up to 4,000 witnesses, which prosecutors say they want to summon for questioning during the trial. The defense lawyers say that the only reason for having such a large number of witnesses was to drag out the trial and keep Merabishvili in pre-trial detention for a full nine-month period allowed by the law, which expires in February, 2014.
Merabishvili is also facing number of other criminal charges.
One involves alleged misappropriation of private property and embezzlement of GEL 158,000 in 2009, when he served as interior minister.
More charges, involving abuse of office, were filed against Merabishvili in June; the charges are related to Sandro Girgvliani murder case in 2006 with prosecutors accusing Merabishvili, who at the time was the interior minister, of series of premeditated actions aimed at covering up evidence in an attempt to obstruct establishment of truth into this murder case.
He was also charged with “exceeding official powers with aggravated circumstances” in connection to break up of a protest rally in Tbilisi center on May 26 2011.