TBILISI, DFWatch – Lawyers representing a Georgian businessman and his wife twice asked the judge to be taken off a case which could decide the country’s future because they think the judge is partial in favor of the defendant. Their request was overruled.
Judge Shota Getsadze Monday reviewed the appeal of lawyers representing Bidzina Ivanishvili and Ekaterine Khvedelidze about having declared unlawful a presidential decree which revoked their Georgian citizenship.
The court hearing began at 2 pm and lasted for four hours. Because the room was too small, only about 25 people were able to attend the session, while some people, including journalists, were unable to enter.
At the beginning of the session the plaintiffs made several motions, the first asking the judge to be taken off the case. Their argument was something that happened at the preparatory meeting of Monday’s session, where the judge expressed his ‘inner belief’ about the defendants. The plaintiffs requested to see a document which was the grounds for the Civil Registry to start the process of revoking the citizenship of Ivanishvili and his wife.
But the representatives of the Civil Registry said that they didn’t have such a document and that the revoking of the two’s citizenship is ‘a very common thing’. The judge then said he accepted what they said based on his inner belief. The plaintiff explains that the judge may have such inner beliefs, but should make the decision only after leaving the courtroom to make his decisions.
The lawyers requested to be allowed to make an audio recording of the session, which they said is their right; but the judge didn’t grant them permission, saying that the session is public, and an audio recording is being made by the court. Then the plaintiffs made another motion to make a video recording of the session, which wasn’t granted either.
First request argument was more based on the operative work of the lawyers and not to have more transparency, but the motion about video recording was made to give society a chance to know what’s happening at the trial, considering the fact that many people couldn’t enter the hall and there is great deal of interest from society about this case.
Later the judge turned off the audio recorder while explaining his denials, which led to objections from Ivanishvili’s lawyers. One of them, Zakaria Kutsnashvili, several times asked the judge to explain why he was doing that; which law, or normative acts and regulations, entitled the judge to turn off the microphones whenever he wants.
The judge didn’t answer, which gave one more argument to the plaintiffs to blame the judge of partiality. They said that ‘if the court says it is independent and transparent, than it shouldn’t be a problem to allow audio or video recordings.’ The lawyers claimed that if the judge is turning off the recorder while explaining his decisions, then the lawyers won’t be able to prove anything – for example his previous statement about his ‘inner belief’ about the defendants.
“You are turning off the microphones so that mistakes won’t sneak in and it won’t be hard for you to correct your mistakes,” Shalva Tadumadze, one of the lawyers, appealed to the judge.
At this time a journalist, Tamar Okruashvili, who was sitting among the audience, laughed, and the judge had her forcefully removed from the courtroom after answering sternly that he has the right to turn off the microphone if he wants.
This gave reason for the lawyers to make another motion to have the judge removed from the case, on the basis that this incident gives rise to further suspicion that he is not objective and has prejudices in the case.
This motion was also overruled.
Then the two parties laid out their opening statements in the case.
The businessman’s lawyers said that both Ekaterine Khvedelidze and Bidzina Ivanishvili were born in Georgia and automatically received Georgian citizenship. But in 1990s, they left the country and went to live in Russia. In 1993 what’s called the organic law was adopted in Georgia. This is a law which forms the foundation for a government, also called a fundamental law. As a result of the new law, their Georgian citizenships was revoked, and they became citizens of Russia.
Alexander Baramidze explained that obtaining Russian citizenship at that time meant that a person had Russian citizenship together with citizenship of the socialist republics integrated in Russia at that time. Russian law entitled its citizen to become another country’s citizen without restrictions.
Ekaterine Khvedelidze, as a Russian citizen had obtained French citizenship on February 18, 2004. Later the same year she was granted Georgian citizenship following a presidential decree.
The lawyers said that in 2005 she, as a French citizen, applied for a Georgian visa and received it. So it means that at least one governmental body — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — knew about the fact that Ekaterine Khvedelidze was a French citizen too, which does away with the government’s argument that it didn’t knew the fact that she had been a citizen of a third country.
From 2005 to 2011 she was a Georgian citizen and had no problems until on October 2011 a presidential decree revoked her citizenship.
While presenting their arguments, the lawyers said repeatedly that the only reason the government had for its action was a political game.
“The aim of the president was not to restore justice; but a political act,” Eka Beselia, one of Ivanishvili’s lawyers said.
It was an excess of his powers with a political motive, the lawyers argued.
As for Ivanishvili, he became a French citizen after he had been granted Georgian citizenship in 2004. He also didn’t have any problems until October 2011, when his citizenship was revoked.
The lawyers said the grounds for what they described as a ‘surprisingly operative’ and ‘immediately enforced’ decree was the open letter of Bidzina Ivanishvili released on October 7, where he described his political goals, stating that he is ready to renounce his citizenships of other countries and remain only a Georgian citizen.
The government has used his letter as an argument, and four days later, on October 11, terminated his citizenship, saying that it was unknown that he held a French citizenship.
Here the lawyers presented several arguments that the president didn’t have the right to revoke his citizenship. First of all, the Georgian citizenship was granted to Ivanishvili for his special merits to the country, so his citizenship was not obtained via being born or naturalized here, which has some restrictions. When Georgia granted him a citizenship, while he was already a Russian citizen, it meant that Georgia recognized his Russian citizenship and the rights entitled to him as such. In other words, as a Russian citizen he had the right to become citizen of as many countries as he wanted.
Then Alexandre Baramidze explained that the two terms ‘dual citizen’ and ‘multi citizen’ mean the same thing, so that being dual citizen doesn’t mean that a person is restricted to have maximum two citizenships. The decree issued by the president was based on the regulations concerning citizenship that is obtained based on naturalization or being born in the country, which is different from the kind of citizenship that is granted, the lawyers argued. If a person was granted citizenship, he has more rights.
“There was no legitimate aim for the decree. He wanted to get rid of a strong political opponent,” Baramidze said.
The aim was not to give him the opportunity to participate in the elections. According to Georgian legislation, a non-Georgian citizen cannot be involved in any political activity or finance political processes.
The defendants, representing the president’s administration and a third party, the Civil Registry, maintained that the reason for Mikheil Saakashvili’s decree was that he didn’t know anything about their French citizenship and he began a citizenship revoking procedure after the Civil Registry was informed of this fact.
The Civil Registry representative further argued that all are equal before the law, and it doesn’t matter in which way a citizenship was obtained – by birth, naturalization or by being granted it.
At the end of the session, there was a question and answers slot which lasted only 25 minutes. The claimant’s lawyers asked the defendants why Ivanishvili and Khvedelidze weren’t informed that there was a procedure underway that may lead to them losing their citizenship.
The Civil Registry answered that this body has such a right but not an obligation to do that, so procedural rules weren’t violated.
The session ended with Eka Beselia aslomg a question to both opposing representatives: Did the president know that Ekaterine Khvedelidze was a French citizen when he granted her a Georgian citizenship back in 2004? And was it mentioned in the conclusion prepared by the Civil Registry, which was the basis for the president to make such decision?
The opposing party answered that the data wasn’t mentioned in that document, and thepresident didn’t know it. This led Beselia to conclude that this fact ‘may have been hidden from the president for some reason.’
The next session in the case is scheduled for December 20 at 2 pm local time.