This latest Saakashvili episode really is a thorn in the side of the West. He is their poster boy for all that in anti-Putin, and now the Georgians (newly engaged to the EU) want to throw him in prison. The decision to indict former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and some senior members of his former National party, for abuses of power during their rule has been widely applauded within Georgia.
His former government has been shown to have been endemically corrupt even by third world standards, and the present Georgian government, elected on a promise of restoring justice, has lost much support at home by not doing enough to put its members behind bars, as they promised would be a priority as soon as they got in office.
However the usual suspects, who never had to live under his rule, have started bleating about Saakashvili being called to answer questions. Maybe they just can’t get over their poster boy. Or maybe there is something much more sinister at work.
Double, treble, and quadruple standards
The Saakashvili regime was upheld and partly funded by the US, under various agreements which were not what they seemed. For example, the Train and Equip Program, which was intended, at least officially, to train and up-grade the Georgian Army, in actuality it resulted in terrorists being inserted into the Pankisi Gorge, trained and armed and then sent to cause trouble wherever the US wanted trouble. Similarly, agencies such as USAID and the MCC Compact, another development scheme, spent much of their funds supporting Saakashvili’s party, or plugging gaps in the budget and calling them “revenue”, rather than establishing sustainable projects on the ground.
Now U.S. Senators John McCain, Ben Cardin, Jeanne Shaheen and Jim Risch have expressed their disappointment at the decision to bring Saakashvili and his minions to trial. The Senators released the following statement:
“We are extremely disappointed and concerned that the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia has filed criminal charges against former President Mikheil Saakashvili and numerous senior leaders of the previous government.President Saakasahvili and his government were not faultless, and it is important for any democracy to uphold its laws. But the pursuit of justice should not become a tool for political retribution or a source of national division, especially when Georgia has so many pressing challenges at present. We and others have urged Prime Minister Garibashvili and other Georgian leaders to focus on the future, not the past, and to help move their country forward, not take it backward. It is nearly impossible to see how the decision to put most of the previous government on trial is consistent with this purpose. Georgia’s leaders need to think long and hard about the direction they are taking their country. Today’s action, and others like it, imposes unnecessary challenges in moving our relationship forward.”
The following individuals have been indicted: Mikheil Saakashvili, former ministers Ivane Merabishvili, Zurab Adeishvili and Davit Kezerashvili and ex-Tbilisi Mayor Giorgi (Gigi) Ugulava. Apparently the four horseman senators believe that these individuals constituted “most of the government” during the nine years of Saakashvili’s rule, which casts some doubt on their credentials as commentators.
The reference to “unnecessary challenges in moving our relationship forward” is also interesting. None of the four senators are in the White House, and nor do they run the State Department. Most are “has been” and considered to belong to the party of war. They are in fact individual politicians that are only expressing their personal opinions and self-interests. So who exactly is “we”, and what sort of relationship do these individuals have with the Georgian state which makes them think they can implicitly threaten its government?
As pointed out in previous articles, Senator John McCain pops up wherever there is trouble in the world, encouraging armed groups to continue their struggle. He did it in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine. His successive election campaigns in Arizona have been largely funded by a bevy of arms manufacturers based in that state with documented links with arms traffickers working on Georgian territory. These contributions are a matter of public record, known to the other senators, including the three who have joined him in making this statement.
There is more than abundant documentation to demonstrate that Georgia became the regional illegal arms transit hub during Saakashvili’s presidency. The usual practice was that the Georgian government would issue face end user certificates to arms shipments coming through Georgian ports, thus making them appear legal. In fact the arms were destined for terrorists, and the shipments therefore anything but legal. Strangely enough, most of these weapons were made and/or sold by US companies, of the sort which fund John McCain’s election campaigns.
This is the “relationship” the four senators are talking about. They are not government representatives, nor part of any relationship between the governments of the US and Georgia. They all, however, have longstanding links with the intelligence services and the military-industrial complex, both of which have long been involved in a string of activities in other countries they would never get away with a home: Guantanamo Bay, Hiroshima, even now you only have to say the words.
At present, Barack Obama is in the White House. He has had as little to do with Saakashvili as possible, sending Vice-President Biden to visit Georgia on his behalf. At one point Saakashvili spent three months in America, rather than his own country, doing nothing but try and engineer a meeting with Obama: there were no official engagements, only the occasional private lecture. Obama responded by cancelling speeches when he found out Saakashvili was in the audience. Obama has not, as yet, commented on Saakashvili’s indictment.
One law for one
The Georgian government is well aware that indicting Saakashvili and some of his ministers will harm relations with Europe, at least in the short term. It is fully aware that there are considerable risks involved with this. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of many European leaders who have been talking about “selective justice” in Georgia for several months, and this mantra has been picked up by every European official who visits Tbilisi, whether from the EU, OSCE or NATO.
However, there is reason to believe that this is largely a face saving exercise. Saakashvili was hailed as a great European for wanting to take Georgia into the EU and NATO. In this at least, he was in line with the majority of the Georgian population. Yet despite all his diatribe and efforts Georgia gained practically nothing. This was in spite of Georgia contributing more troops to NATO operations per capita than any other country it was still excluded from the military bloc, and even a free trade agreement with the EU was out of reach during his presidency.
Georgia has now signed the very Association Agreement with the EU which it never let Saakashvili sign. This is despite the cries of “selective justice” and “political persecution”. This implies that Europe has one view for public consumption, which must be consistent, and another privately, where it has to face reality to conduct relations effectively.
Georgian Prime Minister Gharibashvili has explained the reasons for indicting Saakashvili at length, as would be expected. However the best case for it was made by one of the ruling coalition’s MPs, Zurab Tkemaladze. He said simply, “I would like to address all, including the international community. Democracy and justice are the main thing. Equality before the law is also important. As far as I know, the USA aspires to it and the EU has the same principle.”
Tkemaladze could also have pointed out that in the executions of Nicolae Ceaucescu and Saddam Hussein, the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War, the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Court of Justice, the imprisonment of former US Vice-President Spiro Agnew and the impeachment of sitting President Bill Clinton, nobody talked about “selective justice” or “political persecution”. Nor were any of these actions taken by a government whose main promise to its electorate had been that, if elected, it would do just that.
On July 28 Saakashvili refused to present himself at the Prosecutor’s Office to answer questions. He has therefore been charged in his absence and can be arrested for failure to appear, and even obstruction of justice.
The former President had already announced that he would not be taking this opportunity to clear his name. On his Facebook page he had written:
“For almost two years, the government and the majority lead by Bidzina Ivanishvili have focused all their efforts not on pursuing the development of our nation and making it more secure, but on prosecuting their opponents and putting in jail leaders who have reformed the country for 9 years. They have turned judiciary into political machinery aiming at the elimination of UNM and the destruction of my reformist legacy, As announced many times by the PM and his ministers, I am the next target. Obviously, this behaviour will generate tensions with our American and European allies. But it does not seem to bother leaders who have publicly claimed that they preferred to improve ties with Russia to our sacred friendship with the free people of Ukraine. Nothing seems to stop this thirst for revenge, crackdown. I will obviously not take part in this farce and I will not become the reason why Georgia becomes at odds with its natural democratic allies. Our region is at a turning point, the world is finally paying attention to our claims and our fight for independence and freedom. Is this the right time to let the personal obsessions of one man, even a very rich and powerful one, spoil our future as free citizens of the free world?”
As Saakashvili is a trained lawyer, he will be well aware that his statement lacks one vital component. Nowhere you can find where he actually denies any of the charges against him, or offer any counter evidence about them. Nor does he offer any evidence supporting his claim that his prosecution is motivated by revenge. With so many influential voices crying “persecution”, if Saakashvili could offer one scrap of such evidence it would be seized upon by those voices to build a case. He gives his own supporters no opportunity to defend him, perhaps knowing that words are all they will ultimately offer, just like him.
Mikheil Saakashvili and the other individuals concerned have been indicted over three specific matters. Details can be found here. Yet the same names are also linked, in both popular opinion and specific testimony, to a vast array of other crimes. So are those of many other ministers and officials, some of whom are still walking around and in charge of powerful networks, whose only resource is to continue their criminal ways.
This indictment can indeed be described as “selective justice”. It is selective in the same way jailing Al Capone for merely not paying his taxes was selective justice. This is made even more obvious by the fact that so many people are decrying the actions of Georgia’s prosecutors, but no trial has been held, no evidence heard, no verdicts given, no sentences passed. People with a presumption of innocence behind them are being asked to answer questions, and that is unjust, we are told.
The U.S. senators are calling for Saakashvili and his friends, long suspected of involvement in many crimes, to be above being questioned, let alone prosecuted. By doing so, they violate the US Constitution they pledge to uphold as Congressmen and US citizens. As such, they should be immediately impeached. If that happens, let us see how many US citizens describe this as “political persecution”.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, in close collaboration with Georgian Journalist Nato Potskhishvili exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.