Prosecutor’s office said it launched a probe after a video emerged showing a scene from the 2009 incident at the Mukhrovani military base in which then interior minister Vano Merabishvili is seen telling his subordinates to “bring two corpses”.
“Since the recording obviously shows top officials giving unlawful order, investigation has been launched into this fact,” prosecutor’s office said in a statement released on Thursday morning.
The video in question was posted by a unanimous user on YouTube late on January 29; it depicts a scene from Mukhrovani military unit on May 5, 2009 – the day when a commander of tank battalion stationed in Mukhrovani outside Tbilisi and some acting and former military officers declared disobedience. The authorities at the time said that it was a Russian-backed mutiny with a purpose of overthrowing the government. The video was shot at the time when the authorities were already in control of the Mukhrovani base; it shows senior security and army officers and commanders discussing what appears to be an operation to hunt down some of the suspected culprits who managed to flee the base.
The video shows then interior minister Merabishvili arriving on the scene and telling then head of the special operative department of the interior minister, Irakli Kodua, and some other senior security and military officials: “I want two men; I need two corpses. Bring me these two corpses, that’s it. Bonus is high.” It is not clear from the video whom Merabishvili was referring to.
Fifteen days later, on May 20, 2009, then commander of the rangers’ battalion Levan Amiridze and retired army colonel Koba Otanadze, whom the authorities were accusing of being co-plotters of the mutiny, were wounded and detained by the police. Third suspected mutiny plotter, former army officer, Gia Krialashvili, was shot dead.
In its statement prosecutor’s office made a link between Merabishvili’s “bring me two corpses” remarks and an operation two weeks later in which Krialashvili was killed. Prosecutor’s office said that as part of its investigation into “unlawful order” it would also look into “legality of a special operation” which led to “liquidation” of Krialashvili.
In January, 2010, after four months of trial into convoluted Mukhrovani case, Otanadze and Amiridze were found guilty of mutiny to overthrow the government and sentenced to 29 and 28 years in prison, respectively,. The two were released in January, 2013 after the Parliament included them in the list of “political prisoners.”
Merabishvili, who is now in pre-trial detention, standing trials in several separate cases, denied on January 30 that his “bring two corpses” remarks were an order to kill someone. “I have never given any order to liquidate someone,” Merabishvili said in Kutaisi during ongoing court hearing into one of the criminal charges over which he was arrested in May 2013.
He said that by saying “bring me two corpses”, he was referring to two Russian intelligence agents, who, he claimed, were murdered by mutiny plotters to cover up Russian links to the conspiracy – allegation, which has never been voiced up until now and has not been part of prosecution’s case in trial against suspected mutineers.
Before Merabishvili’s these remarks, some of the leaders of UNM party, among them Gigi Ugulava, were saying while commenting on the Mukhrovani video recording that Merabishvili’s “bring me two corpses” remarks were an order to capture fugitive mutineers and not an order to kill someone.
Merabishvili said that “all the materials” of two separate operations – one at Mukhrovani base during the mutiny itself and another one involving capture of suspected plotters – are still stored in the Interior Ministry and called on the law enforcement agencies to investigate the case objectively. He also expressed readiness to cooperate with the investigation.
On January 30 leaders of the UNM opposition party, where Merabishvili formally holds the post of secretary general, were gathered at a presentation of the party’s future plans involving development of internal democracy by making party posts elected and selecting candidates for mayoral and municipality posts in local elections through primaries. But the event was overshadowed by the Mukhrovani video. Some of the UNM senior figures told journalists that the authorities leaked the video in an attempt to discredit the opposition party and “to manipulate public opinion.”
“One of the key challenges that [UNM] faces is authorities’ attempts to capitalize on aggression which remains in the public against the United National Movement,” UNM MP Giorgi Vashadze told Rustavi 2 TV. “Merabishvili gave his explanation… and now let them [the authorities] investigate it.”