The Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into alleged influence peddling after a former chairman of the presidential pardon commission claimed that ruling coalition politicians were trying to exert undue pressure on him.
Aleko Elisashvili, a former long-time journalist and Tbilisi preservationist activist, was chairman of the presidential pardon commission from November, 2013 before being elected as an independent member of the Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo) in the summer of 2014.
He claimed that while serving as chairman of the pardon commission “influential politicians from the Georgian Dream” ruling coalition were trying to exert undue influence on him for the purpose of recommending the preterm release of certain inmates.
The inmates’ applications for pardon are first examined by the nine-member presidential pardon commission, which then sends a list of convicts, who the commission believes are eligible for pardon, to the President, who has the final say in the process.
Elisashvili has declined to publicly name the “influential politicians” from the GD ruling coalition, who he claims were involved in alleged influence peddling.
Elisashvili, who was questioned by investigators at the Prosecutor’s Office on December 9, said that in his testimony he named those politicians.
He also said that if he sees that there is no progress in an ongoing investigation by the prosecutor’s office, “sooner or later” he will release the names of the politicians involved.
Elisashvili said that a year and a half ago he informed President Giorgi Margvelashvili, Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili, and then lawmaker from the GD ruling coalition Tina Khidasheli, who is now defense minister, of the cases of alleged influence peddling.
Elisashvili also claimed that at the time he also met then chief prosecutor Giorgi Badashvili and his deputy Giorgi Gogadze and informed them about his allegations and named the politicians who he claims were involved in influence peddling. Deputy chief prosecutor, Giorgi Gogadze, told journalists on December 9 that although he had a meeting with Elisashvili, when the latter was chair of the pardon commission, he denied that Elisashvili raised his allegations at the meeting.
Zviad Koridze, a current chairman of the presidential pardon commission, who was a member of the commission when Elisashvili was its chairman, said that there were cases when some politicians and public figures showed an “unhealthy interest” towards the issue of a pardon of some inmates. Koridze was also questioned by prosecutors.
Elisashvili also claimed that some politicians were taking bribes in exchange for lobbying to grant the pardon of specific inmates. He said that a person from whom he received this information is also ready to testify.
Elisashvili voiced his allegations amid debates which followed controversial remarks of head of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, who on December 5 asked for the power to pardon convicts. The next day, the Patriarchate denied requesting any legal powers for pardon and said that the Patriarch’s remarks were made only to show solidarity for inmates; but before this denial, some lawmakers from the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party spoke in favor of giving the Patriarch power to grant pardons. Elisashvili said that some of the politicians enthusiastic about the Patriarch’s remarks were apparently hoping to “revitalize” their corruption scheme.
Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, who is one of the nine members of the presidential pardon commission, said that the allegations should be investigated and his office will be monitoring an ongoing probe. He also said that there was no attempt to exert any pressure on him and was not aware up until now about alleged influence peddling in respect to other members of the commission.