TBILISI, DFWatch–One of the strongmen in Saakashvili’s government was Wednesday sentenced to seven years and six months in jail in a case concerning beating of prisoners and a fatal shooting in 2006.
As the judge announced the verdict there was noise in the courtroom and several people were forced to leave.
First the judge read out the charges for which Bacho Akhalaia was acquitted, which was abuse of powers. His supporters applauded and shouted, and almost half of the people were forced to leave. But when the judge read the part of the verdict for which he was found guilty, Akhalaia’s supporters left the room in a sign of protest.
In October, 2013, Akhalaia was acquitted for mistreatment and torture of sevens special unit employees for political reasons.
In August the same year he was also partly acquitted in abuse of military personnel and illegal deprivation of freedom.
Bacho Akhalaia, who held different high positions during Saakashvili’s rule, including defense minister, interior minister and head of the penitentiary department, has been in detention for nearly two years facing a number of charges in different cases. He has been found guilty of beating prisoners.
His brother Data Akhalaia, another influential law enforcement official during Saakashvili, is also involved in this case, charged with shooting youth.
Tbilisi City Court’s verdict comes two and a half weeks after a resolution by parliamentarians in the Council of Europe who went far in implying that the trials against former government officials are politically motivated.
Two days ago, another Saakashvlii ally, former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, was sentenced to three years in jail in a case connected to the murder of bank employee Sandro Girgvliani in 2006, which probably did more damage to the Saakashvili regime’s reputation than any other case.
Responding to the court’s decision, Bacho Akhalaia wrote in a statement on Wednesday that the court has become ‘a weapon of imperialist powers.’ Besides criticizing the court and the government, Akhalaia writes he will continue fighting for the liberty and unity of Georgia.
“Nothing can stop us from reclaiming Sokhumi – neither Russian tanks nor a whole army of Georgian traitor politicians. Only Abkhazia will be ahead,” he wrote.
Former officials Levan Kardava and Giorgi Mazmishvili were charged with shooting youth during the so-called Navtlughi special operation, while Bacho Akhalaia and former deputy head of the Military Police Department Megis Kardava, are charged with beating prisoners at Prison No. 1 in Rustavi, specifically prisoners who allegedly attempted to escape from prison with the help of the youth who were shot in Navtlughi.
The special operation took place at a bus station near Navtlughi. Three young people were shot: Marad Artmeladze, Roman Surmanidze and Murad Gorgadze. Gordgadze’s brother, the prisoner Gia Gorgadze, was named as a reason for suspicion that some of the prisoners planned a prison riot with the help of the three who were murdered at Navtlughi.
According to investigators, Data Akhalaia and Mazmishvili along with others shot Artmeladze five times, Surmanidze six times and Gorgadze 12 times.
Bacho Akhalaia, who was informed about the killing, and pursuing the theory about an impending prison riot, he tortured Gia Gorgadze and other prisoners, according to investigation.
Akhalaia was acquitted for abusing his powers in the same case, while Levan Kardava was sentenced to eleven years in jail, and Giorgi Mazmishvili as well for deliberate murder. Megis Kardava, who is wanted, was sentenced to seven years and six months in jail.
Malkhaz Velinjashvili, Akhalaia’s lawyer, said after the verdict was announced, that he will appeal to the Appeals Court. He said the verdict is a result of pressure from the government. Even though he is not yet familiar with the the details of the court’s decision, he is sure it won’t stand up to scrutiny because there was no proper evidence in the case.
According to Tbilisi City Court’s statement, 84 witnesses were questioned during 32 hearings.
Akhalaia didn’t attend today’s hearing. He was detained in November, 2012, shortly after the change of government, and has not been out of jail since. He has faced up to ten charges and been acquitted twice, but was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail for his role in the prison riot in 2006.
Right before leaving the post as president, Mikheil Saakashvili pardoned Akhalaia, who was his closest ally.
Bacho Akhalaia served as prison minister in 2006, where the incidents in this case took place, but also held posts as defense minister and interior minister at other times.