It is still a question whether Mikheil Saakashvili will agree to voluntarily return to Georgia to face questioning over his role in several cases currently under criminal investigation, including the possible murder of his former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in 2005. Thus far Saakashvili has only said for certain that his summoning by Georgian prosecutors for questioning is part of “Ivanishvili-Putin game” and he is not going to make “Putin’s dreams come true” by arriving in Tbilisi for interrogation. However he is obligated to do so, and will only heap more trouble on himself if he is put on an international wanted list.
It has long been alleged that the PM was killed in the presence of Saakashvili, and that the President himself threw an ashtray at Zhvania’s head. Recent photos have demonstrated that the official version of Zhvania’s death cannot possibly be correct, as he and his friend Raul Yusopov, who died with him, clearly have more injuries on their bodies than the official report states.
Saakashvili’s party and all the usual Euro-suspects have already tried to turn the summoning of Saakashvili into a circus by branding it as a Putin-requested attempt to sideline one of Kiev’s fiercest supporters and defenders of democracy. The US State Department has said in a press release, “The United States is concerned by the decision of Georgian authorities to call former President Saakashvili for questioning in multiple criminal investigations. “No one is above the law, but launching multiple simultaneous investigations involving a former President raises legitimate concerns about political retribution, particularly when legal and judicial institutions are still fragile.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl “medium sized dog with big dog attitude” Bildt has said that a “policy of revenge has no future in Europe, and such tendencies will undermine Georgia’s trustworthiness and its development as a successful country“. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has made a similar statement, despite the fact his own Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet, has also told the EU’s Catherine Ashton that the very people his President supports deployed the cold-blooded killers in Maidan Square and that they have murdered both innocent Ukrainians and policemen in order to sway public opinion in their favour.
Apparently these individuals, alongside British Ambassador to Georgia Alexandra Hall and the usual EU mouthpieces like José Manuel Barroso, European Commission President, who advised him to leave Georgia and Van Rompuy, do not want the former President to have the opportunity to exonerate himself before prosecutors, who would have to be very careful before bringing any case against a man with so many international friends, whom he retains because of what he knows about them. But when it comes to revenge and selective justice, they are amongst the “watchdogs” and in the know.
A week after being overthrown Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania was tried and executed by a kangaroo court, without due process, just like Saddam Hussein after he had been removed by foreign forces. Germany was made to pay reparations after both World Wars, and French troops occupied the Ruhr when it defaulted on its post-First World War payments. Post-Mussolini Italy banned the Fascist party, and imprisoned members of its successor the MSI, and the UK is still taking its revenge on unpopular King James II, over three hundred years later, by not allowing a fellow Roman Catholic to become king, even though being a Roman Catholic no longer means you might be supporting “the other side” in the geopolitical conflicts of today.
For some reason such acts have never been considered revenge or selective justice, but rather the correction of injustices. However, in Europe’s enlightened reasoning, merely asking Saakashvili for information on issues under investigation, not even charging him with a crime, DOES constitute revenge. Have any of these European leaders ever told their electors that they think people in government, or a handful of people they like, should enjoy eternal immunity from even being questioned, let alone prosecuted?
Freedom Belongs to Me
Saakashvili still has friends in high places internationally because he presented himself as a staunch European who was dragging ignorant Georgia out of the dark ages into the light of EU prosperity. His problem now is that he has been outflanked by the very government he denounced as Russian stooges.
This government, just like Saakashvili’s, wants to take Georgia into the EU but is getting closer to doing it than Saakashvili did. It has signed an Association Agreement with the EU, which the EU would not sign whilst Saakashvili was in power. Discussions on granting Georgia a MAP, or Membership Action Plan, are proceeding rapidly and it has been stated that visa-free travel to EU countries, the one benefit above all which individual Georgians seek to gain from EU membership, will be introduced as early as 2015.
Misha did not achieve these things, which makes him less the European than the new government. His last selling point having gone, he has to respond. Therefore the defeated and discredited ex-President is now trying to make a comeback by substituting the word “freedom” for “European”.
Saakashvili has established a new NGO called Free Zone. This intends to go round Georgia preaching freedom – whether Georgians want it to or not – and maintaining that every view contrary to Saakashvili’s, even if freely held by the Georgian electorate, is a foreign imposition which must be resisted, whether or not Georgians freely choose to accept it.
This sort of tactic has an interesting history. At the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, with bombs going off on the UK mainland as well as in Ulster, the Republican side sent a propaganda unit to the US to state its case. It was called the Truth Squad. The Unionists responded by sending a squad of their own. Predictably, this was also called the Truth Squad.
Communist East Germany made the word “Democratic” part of its title when even its own people, who could accept the term “socialist”, knew that was the one thing it wasn’t. All the warring factions in Afghanistan have put the word “Islamic” in the name of their group when their behaviour is not in any way permitted by Islam. So Saakashvili is not only following a well-established precedent by calling his NGO Free Zone, he is in good company.
Another fine mess
How far can this project go? Saakashvili now depends on the West for support, as he did for most of his increasingly unpopular presidency. Even one of the co-founders of Free Zone, Gela Vasadze, has been quick to point out that the United States is very concerned about just what kind of fine mess their former chosen son, the pin-up boy of Liberty, is now dragging them into.
The expression “Another Fine Mess” was coined in an old Laurel & Hardy film whose title best describes the situation that Saakashvili and his team have gotten the EU and West into. What this particular mess seems to be is this: Saakashvili is trying to either provoke a popular uprising in his favour by destabilising Georgia from within, again a very old tactic currently being used in Ukraine, or martyring himself in the hope that his EU friends will use his “persecution”, imprisonment, or death as a reason for refusing to admit Georgia to the EU.
If these things happen he and his friends will be the saviours again, though at great cost. This will create a chance they will be supported again by those who can genuinely influence events in Georgia – but these are not, and never have been, the Georgian people.
The Elephant in the Room
Such is Saakashvili’s contempt for his own country and its people that he feels their opinions and desires are of no value compared to those of his European friends. Therefore he thinks that charges brought against him by mere Georgians will be dismissed as evidence of his people’s ignorance and undemocratic nature. To an extent this is happening. But will it happen for ever more?
The quantity of evidence against Saakashvili and his minions is mountainous. If these European countries believe that no one is above the law, as the US State Department says, can they continue to ignore all of this evidence, and give him the breathing space to create more problems than they can handle?
It is obvious that Europe is only too aware of all the evidence against Saakashvili, and probably a lot more than the public will ever see, as diplomatic and security channels have their own trusted sources. Why else would it scream “persecution” when he has only been asked to answer questions?
Being asked to give formal responses gives Saakashvili a golden opportunity to demonstrate his innocence of any charge. If prosecutors question him about a criminal act, but then can’t charge him with being involved, quite apart from the verdict of any subsequent trial, he can happily sue anyone who accuses him of being involved in that crime.
Rather than applaud Georgia for giving its former President the opportunity to clear his name, Europe claims it is persecuting him before he has said a word. Clearly Europe knows more than it will admit about what he will say – and who else will be implicated, apart from him, in the criminal acts which occurred during his term of office.
What do prosecutors want to question him about? The published list now reads:
1. The circumstances of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania’s deathThe Georgian newspaper Asawal-Dasawali has written that the Prosecutor’s Office has discovered proof of Saakashvili’s direct complicity, citing a confidential source within the investigation authority saying that a secret recording has emerged containing the audible voice of Saakashvili, who is heard ordering: “Get the corpse out of the way and do everything as agreed.”
2. The pardoning of G. Alania, A.Ghachava, M. Bibiluridze and A. Aptsiauri, who were convicted for the crime committed against Aleksandre (Sandro) Girgvliani and Levan Bukhaidze (extrajudicial murder) on 28 January 2006 by Georgian President’s order No. 768 of 24 November 2008.
3. The raid on the TV Company “Imedi”, its closure and illegal misappropriation by high ranking officials in February 2008 and illegal activities conducted against A. Patarkatsishvili’s family, which ended on 6 July 2011 after the signing of a memorandum between the Government of Georgia and A. Patarkatsishvili’s family.
4. The embezzlement of GEL 8,837,461 belonging to the special state protection service between 2009 and 2012.
5. The forceful takeover of the legal owners of TV companies Rustavi 2 and Mze who had to give up their shares in June 2004.
6. The death of G. Krialashvili and injury of L. Amiridze and K. Otanadze during the special operation to detain them over the so-called Mukhrovani Mutiny (at an army barracks, no mutiny having taken place) on 20 May 2009.
7. The embezzlement of property belonging to state owned Agromet Ltd (the Agrarian University) on 24 February 2012.
8. The illegal privatisation of state owned Bezek Ltd, which gave priority in the transaction to his uncle T. Asatiani, by President’s order on 31 October 2012.
9. The sale of state owned property in the Adjaran Autonomous Republic, with an assessed value of USD 3.
10. The concealment of the fraudulent sale of mortgage property held by Cartu Bank to artificially bankrupt the bank, with the participation of the high-ranking officials, in 2011-2012.
Nowhere in this list is there any accusation of a crime against a member of the present government – the people allegedly seeking revenge. Furthermore these are only a small number of the cases being investigated, which Saakashvili could legitimately be asked about.
For example, three people died while watching a hoax media report about a Russian invasion, a PR stunt which, though this has not been proven conclusively, is widely believed to have been sanctioned by Saakashvili because it suited his purposes to scare the public into running to him to defend them. For example, widespread torture and sodomy with broomsticks were everyday practices in Georgian prisons during his presidency.
For example, officials were sent to a border region in West Georgia in 2008 to round up a busful of voters and direct RPGs and small arms fire at them, in what is now known as the Khurcha Incident, a staged attack designed to convince people they had been fired on from the opposite direction, by Abkhaz separatists, and detract attention from widespread reports of vote rigging. The list goes on and on, and any Georgian can expand it to several more pages if asked.
So how long will Europe and the United States keep protecting its own back until it cuts its losses? NGOs and institutions of higher education have long been dumping grounds for failed and seedy politicians, as have various unelected EU and UN bodies. Reinventing discredited leaders as NGO heads is another way of allowing people to retain some sort of position but really putting them out of harm’s way and saving everyone’s face at the same time. Whether Saakashvili will ever understand this however remains to be seen.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.