Yet another forensic expert investigating the “mysterious” death of Georgia’s former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania is in the news. Unfortunately it is for all the wrong reasons; a succession of other newsworthy events has raised some very disturbing questions about what is really going on in this blueprint for Western involvement in the developing world.
Mamuka Chikhaidze, aged 54, was found dead in his home on November 10th. This follows the death of another forensic scientist connected with the case, Zaza Okhroashvili, who was part of the original investigating team which attended the scene of Zhvania’s murder. Subsequently another insider with institutional knowledge of the death, former government minister Kakha Bendukidze, passed away of apparently natural causes. These deaths all follow in the wake of the murder of Levan Samkharauli, the former head of the Forensic Bureau, back in 2005, and the apparent suicide of the person “alleged” to be responsible for this murder.
Everyone dies, so maybe there is no connection between these deaths or the case they were all involved in. However the present Georgian government, elected on a platform of ending the corruption and criminality so characteristic of the previous one, has not responded to these possible coincidences in anything like an adequate manner.
The government has claimed that as Chikhaidze died of natural causes in his own home, and the family has not made any complaint, it is not going to conduct an autopsy. If this were the only death connected with the case this would be reasonable. But when all those who have knowledge of what really happened are dropping like flies it is reasonable to assume that questions might be asked which an autopsy would go some way to answering.
The heater is innocent
Zurab Zhvania was one of the three leaders of the Rose Revolution which brought former president Mikheil Saakashvili to power. Unlike the third member, Nino Burjanadze, who implicated herself in all Saakashvili’s crimes before going into opposition, Zhvania quickly understood the true nature of the Saakashvili regime and tried to get him to change course.
Zhvania’s own previous track record and intentions were not those of an honourable man. But when it became known that he had fallen out with Saakashvili, and was subsequently found dead in his flat, he became a martyr to a populace which had already realised that Saakashvili was merely an ever sicker version of the hated Eduard Shevardnadze he had been installed to replace.
When the government stated that Zhvania’s death was due to a motorcycle idling outside his window no one believed this. When it revised this assessment and said that a faulty Iranian-made heater was responsible, just when George W. Bush was trying to get international support for attacking Iran, no one believed that either.
When Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili resigned and stated that Zhvania had been tortured and murdered elsewhere and dumped in his flat afterwards, as he was in a position to know, this sounded more likely to most Georgians. When Okruashvili was himself taken away and tortured, and forced to publicly retract his statements with the effects of his torture obvious, this confirmed public suspicion. Okruashvili was subsequently kidnapped by government agents and put on a plane to Germany, eventually being granted asylum in France, from where he continues to make his original claims and support them with documents he waves around during interviews.
The investigation into Zhvania’s death, which blamed the heater, was conducted by specialists from the FBI, flown in for the purpose. The agent in charge, Bryan Paarman, was promoted to Washington DC, FBI headquarters, for his sordid part in an obvious falsification of the facts and being responsible for much of the media spin. But a number of Georgian scientists, who have professional reputations to protect, were also involved in examining the evidence, and they can’t all be promoted out of the way to keep their consciences quiet.
One of the first things the new Georgian government did on taking power was to open a new investigation into Zhvania’s death, as more evidence had emerged which contradicted the FBI account, not least crime scene photos posted on Youtube showing the extent of Zhvania’s injuries. The government even arrested the Iranian-made heater and tested it, and found it to be working normally, though Paarman is still in a job.
But this investigation has now gone quiet. Either it is not doing its job or doing it too well. No Georgian jury would be likely to find that Zhvania died accidentally, given the furore that still surrounds the case nearly ten years later. But those who are able to present firm evidence, one way or the other, are now dying off before they can do so.
So it just isn’t good enough for the government to say that as no one complained about the death of Chikhaidze there is no reason to conduct an autopsy. Given past history, acknowledged by this government, there is every reason to suspect that yet another death related to this case might have a suspicious element in it. By not investigating Chikhaidze’s death the government is hindering the investigation into Zhvania’s, and raising questions about itself which it cannot afford to run away from.
Methods and madness
Does no one in a positon of power want to solve the Zhvania case? Or has it already been solved, but telling the truth while the evidence can be presented would be too embarrassing for the FBI and the State Department?
Jeffrey Silverman, the Bureau Chief for Veterans Today, NEO’s sister publication, gave two days of testimony over the alleged destruction of forensic evidence back in April 2013. He saw how thick the case file was then. He stated that the US Embassy was involved in covering up the murder for political reasons, such as Georgia’s links to arms trafficking and drugs for weapons swaps, deals brokered between the US Embassy and the previous Georgian government.
Any time Silverman writes something about US activities in Georgia the Embassy jumps in and says that he is not a reliable source. It then throws bricks at him, sends people to beat him up, including Bryan Paarman and his bodyguard, revokes his passport and health insurance and never, once, provides evidence to disprove his claims. Readers are invited to judge for themselves how unreliable a source he is.
We know what the argument between Saakashvili and Zhvania was about. Zhvania did not want to see Georgia used as a weapons and narcotics transit hub and terrorist training base. This made him a threat to US interests, just like Silverman. He was more powerful, he knew more, so the action had to be more direct.
All that is supposed to be in the past now. Georgians are no longer terrorised by the entire state apparatus for having opposing views or running successful businesses the government wants to steal. But the present government is even more pro-US than the previous one.
In itself, that does not have to be a bad thing. But a pattern of disturbing consequences is now beginning to emerge. For example, Georgia is allowed to sign the EU Association Agreement, at long last, and then huge military cargo planes appear at Tbilisi Airport carrying weapons which are subsequently discovered in the hands of ISIL. Quid pro quo, as it were. But of course none of this is officially admitted, which means there is much more yet to come to the surface.
Georgia will be allowed into the West as long as it continues its corrupt and deadly relationship with Washington. If it won’t stop investigating the Zhvania case, the evidence must be destroyed, and that can only be done by stopping the witnesses corroborating what they may already have presented, or be about to present.
Smoke getting in US eyes
Levan Samkharauli, the former Forensics Bureau head, was killed in the town of Kvareli in the Kakheti region. This just happens to be the site of a planned NATO base. The owners of the resort in this town are tied to the US Embassy and have a major contract providing food to the Georgian Ministry of Defence, in which capacity they actually provide logistics for weapons and drug for weapons swaps via the port of Poti, near the administrative border with Abkhazia.
According to the official version the man suspected of killing Levan Samkharauli committed suicide several months later. This killing has never been fully investigated, so the basis of any charges against this man is somewhat dubious, and the suicide can also be considered suspect. That too has never been fully investigated.
Chikhaidze was not simply one scientist among many, whose opinions could be challenged by another scientist. He was directly involved in the FBI investigation, and had personally examined the deceased Prime Minister’s organs. He had previously announced that he was intending to provide expert testimony that Zhvania’s body had been “bloodied, with internal haemorrhages.” This directly contradicts the evidence in the FBI-sponsored report.
Chikhaidze was in the process of giving evidence to the Prosecutor’s Office. He had been called to appear on November 7th, 8th and 10th but did not appear after the 7th. When he failed to give a University lecture his colleagues called his sister. The door to his flat was broken down and he was found lying on the floor dead.
Chikhaidze’s family doesn’t want to talk about anything other than a death by natural causes, and neither do his colleagues. They are right to say that “all things are possible”, but that statement cuts two ways. The government was obviously going to give credence to what Chikhaidze was about to say, as it has already arrested some of the forensics bureau staff for doctoring and destroying evidence in the original investigation, including Levan Chachua, who was arrested for “professional negligence”. His silence now is too convenient to too many people not to be investigated by responsible authorities.
Maybe there will be a backhanded admission of the truth in due course, such as we saw in Samkharauli’s case. After his death the Saakashvili government named the Georgian National Forensics Bureau after him. It also gave Zhvania a very public state funeral to try and allay suspicion. If something is named after Chikhaidze, it will not be a surprise.
Events in a faraway country rarely bother most people. Nor do those in their own countries if they are “out of sight, out of mind”. The lives of black people in American cities are often a mystery to those Americans who pontificate on them, as they never venture into black neighbourhoods. Similarly few French have any grasp of conditions in proto-separatist Corsica, or Italians of the south of their country.
The reason Georgia matters is because its US sponsors have long held it up as a model. It was often referred to as the “Beacon of Democracy” in its region, and its blatant democratic and human rights violations were willfully ignored by Uncle Sam.
So Georgia isn’t just another place which has to deal with the US, like the whole world does. It is the US’s idea of what its friends should be like, regardless of the consequences for the local population. What happens in Georgia today is what the US would like to see happen everywhere – and it has shown it will go to any lengths to get its own way, and cover up the evidence, in many corners of the globe.
The present Georgian government was supposed to be the antidote to all this. If it still wants to be, it should immediately investigate these convenient deaths and the link all the deceased have with the Zhvania case. If it doesn’t, Georgians have nowhere else to turn, their country will never again be their own, and FBI/CIA dirty tricks will be the drivers of all executive decisions, everywhere. I hope you are sitting comfortably reading this, because you may not be for long.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.