Some Georgian newspapers see possible disagreements between Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili over the police leadership reshuffle currently taking place in the Shida Kartli region, for alleged links of top police officials with smuggling in the region.
Following the arrest of Beso Giorgashivli, the chief of police of Kareli, a town in Shida Kartli, President Saakashvili convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on March 13 and announced that police chiefs from all the districts in this region should be dismissed. Aleksandre Sukhitashvili, the chief of the Shida Kartli police, and his deputies were also dismissed.
Daily 24 Hours wrote on March 14 that government explained decision by attempts to intensify anti-smuggling measures but that “it is hard to say” what real reasons behind this reshuffle might be.
“Aleko [Aleksandre] Sukhitashvili has been regarded as a member of ‘Irakli Okruashvili’s team’ starting from the period when the latter severed as the Governor of the Shida Kartli region [in late 2003],” writes the 24 Hours.
Before his appointment as Defense Minister last December, Irakli Okruashvili served as Governor of Shida Kartli region, then became General Prosecutor and served as the Interior Minister before becoming Defense Minster in December.
“The Interior Minister [Vano Merabishvili] thought little about finding a replacement for the sacked Sukhitashvili. The session of the National Security Council was not even over when Deputy Interior Minister Bidzina Bregadze was heading for Gori together with the new chief of regional police department,” the 24 Hours reports.
The daily Rezonansi ran the font-page article with the headline “Merabishvili vs. Okruashvili’s Cadres” and reported that one week before his arrest, Beso Giorgashvili was convened in the Interior Ministry for interrogation, where he was asked to testify against Aleksandre Sukhitashvili and Mikheil Kareli, the Governor of Shida Kartli region.
“But, Giorgashvili denied that Sukhitashvili or Kareli were engaged in smuggling. He was released from the Interior Ministry after eight hours of being there,” according to the Rezonansi.
The 24 Hours quotes Giorgashvili’s lawyer Mamuka Nozadze as saying: “Several days ago Giorgashvili and the chief of Kaspi [a town in Shida Kartli] police were taken to the Interior Ministry. Actually, it was abduction. Both of them were ordered to testify against Sukhitashvili and Mikheil Kareli and say they were engaged in smuggling. But they [Giorgashvili and chief of Kaspi police] refused. On Saturday, there was a televised announcement made by the "Droeba" program [at Tbilisi-based Imedi television] that Giorgashvili was going to provide information about this to the television. But on Sunday morning he was arrested,” Nozadze told 24 Hours, but he could not specify exactly who was demanding Giorgashivli to testify against ex-chief of Shida Kartli police.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security MP Givi Targamadze denied these media speculations as “foolish.”