TBILISI, DFWatch–A former head of Georgia’s domestic intelligence service has been detained in Greece as he tried to cross the border into Italy using a fake passport.
Data Akhalaia, the former head of the Constitutional Security Department, among Georgians known as ‘Kudi’, was recently declared wanted by Interpol. He is suspected of involvement in the murder of bank employee Sandro Girgvliani in 2006.
Now, it has been revealed that he was detained in Greece a month ago. It happened at a border crossing in Petra, 210 km from Athens, as he attempted to cross the border with Italy using a forged passport.
Greece’s Prosecutor’s Office confirms that Data Akhalaia was detained for using forged documents, Greek media report. He was carrying EUR 20,000 and USD 10,000 on him and was using a fake passport issued in the name of Otar Urushadze.
Data Akhalaia applied for political asylum in Greece and was taken to the Appeals Court in Petra.
In Greek media it is reported that Akhalaia was detained a month ago. Now the court must decide whether to try him in Greece or send him back to Georgia, which asked Interpol to issue a so-called Red Alert for him.
While waiting for the court to decide, Akhalaia has been given a different name and surname, because Greek law enforcement officers fear that many of the Georgians who are also in the prison might want to take revenge, and his real identity has therefore been withheld from the other prisoners.
Data Akhalaia is brother of Bacho Akhalaia, who has been in detention in Georgia for more than a year, served at different times as prison, defense and interior minister during the Saakashvili regime.
Data Akhalaia held high posts at the Interior Ministry and then chaired Kudi, which is one of the most important bodies at the ministry. Then he became deputy defense minister, while his brother became minister of interior. People thought that Bacho Akhalaia still controlled the Defense Ministry through his brother after being appointed to the new post, which happened several months before the parliamentary election in 2012.
Their father Roland Akhalaia is an MP from the National Movement who previously served as chief prosecutor of the western Samegrelo region. The region is divided in their view of the Akhalaias – some support them, others say they kept a tight grip on the people of Samegrelo.
Criminal cases have been launched against both brothers for abuse of power and other accusations. Bacho Akhalaia’s case lasts for more than a year and a half and is not yet finished.
Data Akhalaia has been wanted since December, 2012. He left the country after the 2012 parliamentary election, when UNM was defeated and there was a change of government.
Tbilisi City Court sentenced him in absentia to three years and nine months in jail for his involvement in the beating of policemen in 2005.
Data Akhalaia is also implicated in several other criminal cases: The murder of Sandro Girgbliani in 2006, the special operation in Navtlukhi, where three youth were murdered and according to the Prosecutor’s Office, Akhalaia shot them; the beating of Dimitry Kitoshvili, a former employee of the president’s parliamentary security; and illegal surveillance.
About a year ago, Data Akhalaia published a statement in social media saying that it was former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili’s responsibility that UNM was defeated in the 2012 election. After this, Mikheil Saakashvili said that he didn’t even know Akhalaia in person, which is not true, and was taken as a sign that he wanted to distance himself from the Akhalaias; however the UNM still supports Bacho Akhalaia and Roland Akhalaia.
The lawyer that represents Data Akhalaia in his absence, Irakli Zakareishvili, denies that his client has been detained. He says that Akhalaia surrendered to the police, because he wanted to get political asylum. He said there is political persecution against his client and the Akhalaia family, as well as the other lawyers that represent the other Akhalias.
“That is why Akhalaia decided to address EU country Greece [and ask] for political asylum,” he said, adding that the necessary procedures are in progress.
Later, lawyer Alexandros Papasteriopolus, who represents Akhalaia in Greece, confirmed that his client was detained for using fake documents while trying to enter Italy. He says it happened on March 27.
The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office has not yet commented, beyond saying that it would be against the interests of the investigation to do so.