Two weeks ago a horrendous crime was committed in Tbilisi which is still the talk of the town. Vakhtang Qiria, the chief prosecutor of Samegrelo Zemo Svaneti, a mountainous region of Georgia, was found dead in a rented flat on Vazha Pshavela Avenue. He died from a fatal gunshot to the head; however, his body had subsequently been dismembered.
The police opened an investigation immediately, and within a day they came across Bidzina Kuchava, a relative of Qiria’s and founder of the Voice of Georgia radio network, near the House of Justice. Having decided he was a suspect, for reasons unknown, he was stopped for questioning. While they were in the process of checking his documents Kuchava committed suicide on the spot by shooting himself in the head.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) subsequently stated that while checking Kuchava’s documents the police found bloodsoaked gloves in his car (like the ones planted in the OJ Simpson case). They also found three mobile phones and Qiria’s driving license, also soaked with blood. All these objects have been sent for forensic examination, though it has not been explained why he would have these items with him in his car when they could easily have been dropped in the nearby river.
Kuchava had a severe toe injury. Apparently it had been severed and then sewn back on. The wound was recent – his leg was wrapped in a plastic bag to contain the profuse bleeding. In its official statement the ministry “implied” that this injury had occurred because Kuchava had murdered Qiria and then apparently chopped off his own toe whilst in the frenzy of cutting up his body. It was also discovered that the flat where Qiria was found had been rented by Kuchava several days before his murder, reminding some of the way former Georgian PM Zurab Zhvania was also found in a rented flat.
The rapid investigation determined that the last time Qiria had been in contact with his family was on January 13th, the Old Georgian New Year. Apparently Kuchava had killed him by using the fireworks which were making a significant amount of noise to cover the blast of the pistol. He had also bought a “BARGALKA” – a metal disk grinder – to reduce the time it would take to cut up the body.
Another labour saving device found at the crime scene was a chain link and meat hook, used to help drain the blood. It appears the body had to be hung to drain it of blood prior to it being cut into pieces and bagged up for disposal.
To further complicated an already complicated story, Kuchava just happened to be driving towards the airport with Davit Popov and his wife. Popov is not known to the Georgian public, but is now rumoured (based on media reports) to be somehow linked with Russian intelligence. It is claimed that Kuchava was heading in the direction of the airport to escape justice, and that he had made an international phone call to ask someone outside Georgia to help him, and this contact directed him to Popov and his wife. Conveniently all this was confirmed when Popov and his wife were questioned.
The investigators are satisfied that Qiria’s murder was not connected to his work as a prosecutor, but with things going on near Abkhazia and the politically hot region of Zugdidi. However no one actually knows what really happened, or what motive the murderer might have had, either for the murder itself or trying to dismember the body and then leaving all the evidence of this lying around for police to find.
Naturally the opposition is having a field day over this, as this latest murder could have far-reaching political and geopolitical implications, and impact on an international level. The Georgian government is asking the media not to speculate about this case, as other unsolved murders could be connected to Qiria’s and reports could interfere with a larger investigation. But most conveniently, all these unresolved murders were committed during the time of the previous government.
Too much too soon
All these definite statements at very first press conference are just not credible. There are so many unanswered questions that it is not possible to know that the victim’s demise was not related to his official duties as a prosecutor in a region known for weapons and human trafficking. As his body parts have not even been reassembled, a conclusion about the exact manner of his death and timeframe is also clearly premature.
This is why Kuchava’s family has decided to involve Maia Nikoleishvili, an independent forensic expert. Kuchava’s wife does not accept that Kuchava could murder his own relative in cold blood, dismember his body and then proceed to kill himself. She says that Kuchava had various plans for the future and wanted to start a new business.
In one of her first interviews she said: “I can’t even imagine that Bidzina would kill Vakhtang. I hope that Qiria’s family thinks the same. They were relatives of the same age and had very close relations. They were not business rivals and didn’t owe each other money. It’s very important to highlight that I have never seen the people he was with when he committed suicide (Popov and his wife), the first time I ever saw them was on the TV news reports.”
However, we have heard of Kuchava before. He was a pretty influential person in Tbilisi. He owned a casino in addition to Voice of Georgia. Prior to 2012 he lived in Kiev, returning to Georgia after the election of the present government.
According to the Civil Registry he owned a number of properties in Borjomi and Tbilisi, but had mortgages on some of these, indicating that he was not one of Georgia’s super-rich. But the interesting thing is the Kiev connection. There have been a string of alleged business dealings between West Georgia and criminal elements in Ukraine, where leading members of the previous Georgian government have been given shelter despite the number of charges against them in Georgia.
Furthermore, Kuchava’s name had previously been connected to several other murder cases in Tbilisi. Gambler Gocha Maghaltadze was murdered in 2007. Witnesses implicated Kuchava as a probable suspect, but the courts never asked him to testify.
Intelligence Journal Veterans Today, as part of a larger investigation, found the testimony of one of these witnesses, Vazha Nutsubidze, who had been a friend of Maghaltadze. He had this to say:
“Gocha Maghaltadze was a gambler. That’s how I got to know him. According to my information Maghaltadze won $50,000 from Kuchava and $69,000 from Merab Zhordania, the former head of the football federation. Zhordania told him that this money had simply offset previous debts, but Kuchava disappeared without paying. He said later that he had played with Maghaltadze again and won the sum back, so didn’t owe him any money, but if that had happened I would certainly have known about it. Kuchava must send this money to his family. Gocha was a gambler, everyone knew that, but he was a good person. No one knows why he was killed.”
Witnesses said during the hearings that Maghaltadze was killed with a special type of pistol. The killer sprayed pepper at the murder scene in order to cover his trail. Kuchava’s name is also connected to the murder of ex-Minster of Intelligence Tamaz Ninua and his wife, who were found dead in 2009. Again, a very specific weapon was used and police found pepper sprayed at the crime scene.
Now Kuchava is dead it’s very easy to close all these cases by accusing him. But is there more to it than this?
Vakhtang Qiria, as Chief Prosecutor of Samegrelo Zemo Svaneti, investigated crimes taking place in Abkhazia and West Georgia. This is the region in which there have been concerted efforts to stage false flag attacks, including the attempted bombing of the Khobi-Enguri Railway Bridge, a TV transmission tower and even the US Embassy. These are matters Qiria should have known plenty about. He was also professionally connected with a number of unresolved and uninvestigated murders, such as the cases of Gogita Abuladze and Eldar Kobalia (who were tortured to death), which the Georgian Ministry of Justice claims to have reexamined under the new government.
Vakhtang Qiria disappeared on January 13th but was only found five days later. His phone was found in another city, Rustavi. But his family is taking a different tack on his murder. “The fact that my brother’s body is here and is not lost is to the credit of the ministry, the police and the prosecutor. I want to thank them again, they have done their best,” said his brother Eldat.
This in itself is suspicious. So if the fact that on January 15th another prosecutor’s car was found riddled with bullet holes. It was suggested on that occasion that some force wanted to influence or oppress prosecutors in Georgia. But others maintained that these things happened because others want us to think that, which is equally disturbing.
Several days ago an ex-army colonel made a seemingly unconnected allegation. He publicly accused former Prime Minster of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili of the murder of his son, who had participated in the special operation in Kodori Gorge in 2007. “Everybody who participated in Kodori 2007 special operation will be liquidated. Ivanishvili doesn’t need any witnesses. Apparently he has already started this process. The case against my son was fabricated by him, and I have the documents which prove this. It was ordered by Ivanishvili,” he said.
Kodori 2007 has been widely discussed. It is claimed that a group of people from Sokhumi wanted to shut down a road in upper Abkhazia as it was still under Georgian control. This road was still being constructed, and was of strategic importance to Georgia, as it connected Georgia proper to the remote Svaneti region. Russia was alleged to be opposed to this construction.
During the special operation two people died and seven were arrested. Then-President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili told the UN General Assembly that the Russians had provoked a confrontation, while Russia blamed Georgia for it. Two Russian soldiers died as a result, Artur Dvorkin and Igor Muzovarkin.
The Accent information agency has published an [anonymous] interview about the Qiria murder. It states:
“David Popov knew Kuchava very well. People like Popov always find the necessary contacts. They got to know to each other in a casino many years ago. Popov wanted someone who was in touch with certain people in Abkhazia and was ready to pay a huge amount of money for this person. The mediator between them had to be someone in a high position but not obviously connected with intelligence. Vakhtang Qiria was exactly the right person. He had many contacts, and was able to get and share all kinds of information. But apparently something went wrong and Kuchava was given the order to kill Qiria as he had a lot of information. And when police tracked Kuchava down he knew he could be arrested as a spy or killed by the Russians, so he decided to commit suicide, but I cannot exclude the possibility that he was killed by Popov.”
If this is true, Qiria’s murder serves many purposes, as another thing he would have known about is the Kodori operation, which was within his professional remit. We should also remember Bidzina Ivanishvili’s press conference in 2012, at which Kuchava asked him a simple question and he refused to answer, saying that he knew Kuchava from previous cases and that he had “recently supported a very wrong opinion.” No one knew what he meant then, maybe they do now.
This is not the only mysterious death of a prominent person in Georgia in recent years. Former Rustavi 2 TV boss Eros Kitsmarishvili was killed in his own car, Yuri Vazagashvili was gunned down at his son’s grave, Besik Khardziani was murdered near his house. These murders all had the same signature. The prosecutors say that all these cases are almost solved, but that no one knows who ordered these deaths, meaning nothing can ever be done about them.
The deaths of Qiria and Kuchava, with the links they have, demonstrate that whoever is murdering prominent Georgians is someone even better connected than they, and is able to subvert the system. There are not many people this could apply to, but each of those people has a name known to the public, which will need protecting by any means possible.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, and Nini Japaridze, a freelance journalist based in Georgia, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.