TBILISI, DFWatch–Eleven current and former police officers were detained in Georgia on Tuesday in connection with bombing of a human rights activist nearly two weeks ago.
Yuri Vazagashvili, a Tbilisi businessman, was killed January 20 as he stepped on a land mine placed on top of his son Zurab’s grave. He had for years fought to bring to justice the policemen who shot and killed his son in a special operation in 2006.
The police officers now detained, some of them formerly high-ranking, are implicated in not accidentally shooting, but murdering Zurab Vazagashvili – just like his father claimed.
At a press briefing Tuesday, the Prosecutor’s Office presented a scheme of what it called a deliberate murder of a police informant and his friend.
The crime was conceived by Irakli Pirtskhalava, former deputy head of the Criminal Police Department, according to the office, after his brother, Levan Pirtskhalava, was arrested for drug-related crime, allegedly on the basis of information provided to the Special Operation Department, or Sodi, that had carried out the detention, by Alexandre Khubulov, who was murdered during the same police shooting as Zurab Vazagashvili, sometimes called ‘the tennis court special operation’, because there used to be a tennis court where it happened.
“For him, as for the high official of the Ministry of Interior, it was unacceptable to endanger his official influence and reputation in this way; therefore he decided to take revenge through murdering Alexandre Khubulov, the main actor in case of his brother’s arrest,” the statement issued by the Prosecutor’s Office says.
“According to Irakli Pirtskhalava’s criminal plan, he, together with other high officials of the Ministry of Interior would have elaborated the scenario of armed robbery preparation by Alexandre Khubulov and would have murdered him within the publicly declared zero tolerance policy in the fight against crime.
“By the mentioned, he would have taken revenge against Alexandre Khubulov (who disclosed his brother’s connection with drugs) on one hand, and on the other hand this special operation would have created an image for him and his accomplices as if they were law enforcement officials fighting against crime.”
Then the PO goes on stating that the police ambushed a car carrying Alexandre Khubulov, Zurab Vazagashvili and Bondo Puthuridze, and opened fire without there being a need for it.
After riddling the car with bullets, the statement says, “Giorgi Tsaadze, Deputy Head of the Crime Intelligence Unit… approached the car driven by Zurab Vazagashvili and exercised ‘control shots’ [extra shots to the head after the victim has been pacified, to make sure he dies, ed.] from his firearm against Zurab Vazagashvili and Alexandre Khubulov sitting on the front seats.”
Zurab Vazagashvili was hit by 8 bullets, while Alexandre Khubulov with 9. Bondo Puthuridze was seriously injured but survived the wounds.
The Prosecutor’s Office insists that the weapons were planted in Vazagashvili’s car deliberately after it was shot by the police in order to justify using force. This accusation is vigorously denied by the police officers.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ version, Vazagashvili, Khubulov and Puturidze had been preparing to commit armed robbery and the police special operation was conducted to prevent the crime. While nearby the tennis courts, police tried to stop the car, but shots were opened from inside the vehicle and the police special forces had to return fire.
The Prosecutor’s Office’s investigation challenges that version, stating that the shots fired by the police special forces were not preceded by shots from inside the car.
On these grounds, Tbilisi City Court on Tuesday authorized the detention of 11 officers, including Irakli Pirtskhalava, who is accused of masterminding the operation, and Giorgi Tsaadze, the former deputy head of the Crime Intelligence Unit, Central Criminal Police Department, who is accused of firing the fatal control shots against Zurab Vazagashvili and Alexandre Khubulov.
Also other officers who participated in the operation were detained, including Kakhaber Nakani, former head of the Special Task Force of the Tbilisi police, and his former deputy, along with six other task force members. One more former officer was also charged, but he had left the country.
The detainees deny the accusations.
“It is a fairy tail,” Irakli Pirtskhalava’s attorney told journalists. “Mr Pirtskhalava exclude any relation of this special operation with his brother (detention).”
The detentions triggered a sharp response from the National Movement. Member of Parliament Givi Targamadze called it a ‘masquerade’ that has been conceived by the Prosecutor’s Office after they guessed that they ‘were unable to investigate the murder of Yuri Vazagashvili.’