Georgian prosecutor’s office has filed criminal charges against former deputy interior minister, Giorgi Lortkipanidze, who is now chief of police in Ukraine’s Odessa region, in connection to break up of anti-government protest rally in Tbilisi in May, 2011.
Before being charged with exceeding official powers with use of violence, Lortkipanidze was summoned on September 20 by the prosecutor’s office for questioning.
Lortkipanidze told Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 TV via phone from Ukraine that before leaving for Ukraine to take the position of police chief in Odessa in June 2015, he had already been questioned by prosecutors for three or four times in connection to this case and provided investigators with all the information available to him.
In February, 2014 Tbilisi City Court found ex-interior minister Vano Merabishvili guilty of exceeding official powers in the same case related to break up of protest rally in May, 2011 and sentenced him to 4 years and 6 months in jail.
Prosecution was accusing Merabishvili of ordering violent crackdown on protesters for “punitive” purposes. Merabishvili’s defense argued that charges were politically motivated and isolated cases of excessive force used by police against protesters had nothing to do with Merabishvili’s order to disperse demonstration. In newly brought charges against Lortkipanidze, Prosecutor’s Office claims that Merabishvili ordered violent dispersal of the demonstration and mass arrest of protesters to his deputy Gia Lortkipanidze.
The case, stemming from the break up of the 2011 protest rally, reemerged after the Prosecutor’s Office claimed this week that it obtained “new” evidence in a form of video footage, showing then head of Constitutional Security Department, Data Akhalaia, near the protest venue shortly before the start of dispersal of the rally, telling his subordinates to arrest many protesters, promising them bonuses in exchange. Prosecutor’s Office charged Davit Akhalaia in connection to this case on September 20. Akhalaia is wanted by Georgia on multiple, separate criminal charges; in October, 2014 court in Greece ruled against Akhalaia’s extradition to Georgia.
Timing of emergence of this video less than three weeks before the parliamentary elections made some political commentators and opposition parties to speculate that the video in fact was not “newly obtained” evidence as prosecutors claim and it was withheld at the initial stage of investigation and released by the authorities now in an attempt to score political points.
In a separate development also related to former high ranking official, Tbilisi City Court found on September 22 Vano Merabishvili guilty of organizing attack against MP Valeri Gelashvili, who was brutally beaten up in Tbilisi in 2005. Merabishvili, who denies charges and who is already serving prison term for several separate cases, was sentenced to 6 years and 9 months in jail. Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now governor of Odessa region in Ukraine, is also facing charges in the same case related to attack on MP Gelashvili.