TBILISI, DFWatch — Georgian authorities are continuing their investigation into former interior minister Vano Merabishvili for trying to leave the country with a forged passport.
According to the interior ministry, Merabishvili gave them false information on purpose in order to disrupt the investigation. In response, the ministry has published the testimonies of the people who were witness to the incident last Friday.
The ministry questioned Vano Merabishvili, Zurab Darchiashvili, Chair of the presidential administration’s protocol service, and Giorgi Giorgadze, also an employee of this service, and Vazha Ghoghadze of the border police.
The latter testifies that November 30, he was on duty when he learned that a flight of government officials together with the president was planned. A representative of the protocol service came to him, giving passports, when he noticed that there was a passport issued in the name of one Levan Maisuradze, but the passport had attached a photo of Vano Merabishvili, which he recognized.
“I can categorically confirm that former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili was on the photo,” Vazha Goghadze says in his testimony, adding that he explained to the protocol service employee that he wouldn’t give permission to the owner of the passport to leave the country.
“When I asked whose passport it was, he answered that it belonged to Vano Merabishvili. He took the passport, looked at the photo and said that it was a photo of Vano Merabishvili. I asked him to look up the demographic data, but when he looked at it he didn’t return the passport and brought it to Zurab Darchiashvili, head of the protocol service.”
He further testifies that Vano Merabishvili was standing next to them. He looked at the passport and said it was no problem and soon his passport would be brought over. In 3-5 minutes Darchiashvili gave him the real passport.
“I want to remark that I saw how Vano Merabishvili took the passport issued in the name of Levan Maisuradze from Zurab Darchiashvili and put it in his pocket.”
Zurab Darchiashvili, chair of the president administration’s protocol service, says that shortly before leaving, Vano Merabishvili gave him a passport for further control, which he gave to Giorgi Giorgadze, who took it to the border police.
“After a few minutes, Giorgi Giorgadze told me there was a misunderstanding regarding Merabishvili’s passport and said that the passport did not belonged to Vano Merabishvili.”
When he saw the passport, he discovered that the name and surname wasn’t the same as Vano Merabishvili in the passport, but he remembers it was issued to one Lasha Maisuradze. But he also remarks that he didn’t observe it well and didn’t see the photo in the passport.
“I knew the list of persons in the delegation and there was no Lasha Maisuradze, so I returned it personally to Vano Merabishvili, who explained that this was another person’s passport and he soon said they would bring him his own passport,” he remembers. “In fact, in 5-7 minutes later an unknown person brought Merabishvili’s passport, which was passed to the border police in accordance with the rules.”
Giorgi Giorgadze, employee of the protocol service, remembers that Vano Merabishvili gave a passport to Zurab Darchiashvili, who gave it to him. He didn’t observe the passport but presented it to the border police and returned it back to the airport hall.
In a couple of minutes, the inspector told him that the passport didn’t belong to Merbaishvili and that they couldn’t let him leave the country. He informed Zurab Darchiashvili about this and in a few minutes the real passport was brought over.
Merabishvili’s testimony says that he gave the passport to the protocol service representative to bring it to the border police.
“In its biometric page there was my photo, my name and surname – Vano Merabishvili born 15.04.1968 and appropriate number, which I do not remember,” he says. “As far as I remember I presented my national passport to this person. I gave it once and he never told anything to me regarding passport and I didn’t notice any incident. After the flight when I got back to Georgia I didn’t have any other conversation. I do not know any Levan Maisuradze born 12.02.1970; I’ve never seen any of his documents, nor owned one.”
Tea Tsulukiani, Justice Minister later stated that it was a correct decision not to detain Vano Merabishvili regarding this case. She notes that the fact that Merabishvili was together with the country’s president who is also Commander in Chief of the country was enough not to suspend the process and let Vano Merabishvili leave with delegation.
Chief Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili does not think it necessary for anyone to be detained in this case. He said at a briefing that there are no guarantees that someone will be held responsible or not, but the investigation is in progress.
“We didn’t detain Merabishvili at the moment when the incident took place. He left the country with his real passport, but the content of the episode is that the inspector was presented with a passport which didn’t belong to Merabishvili. Even so, there were no interruptions while leaving or returning.”
Kbilashvili notes that the testimonies are contradicting each other and it should be established which of them is correct.