Tbilisi City Court (IPN)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The jury on Friday found two members of the personal security detail of Zurab Zhvania guilty of negligence leading to the PM’s death in 2005.

Ten members of the jury agreed with the charges laid out by the prosecutors, while two were against. The jury needed at least eight votes to make a decision. However, the jury recommended the judge to mitigate the punishment.

Mikheil Dzadzamia was immediately released as he was sentenced to eight months in prison, which he had already served while being in a pre-trial detention.

Koba Kharshuladze was sentenced with 21 months. However, he had already been sentenced for corruption earlier and, as Georgian legislation mandates the merger of sentences, and Kharshiladze has already served some time, he will remain in prison until December, 2015.

The charges implied in section 342, part two, of the Criminal Code, about negligence in official duty leading to death, could be punished with up to four years in jail.

Mikheil Dzadzamia and Koba Kharshiladze were on the shift protecting Zurab Zhvania at the time of his death in the night of February 3, 2005. The Saakashvili government quickly announced the cause of death as accidental gas poisoning, but the case has remained controversial and it is a widely held view that Zhvania in fact might had been killed. However, no substantial evidence has been brought forth so far.

The trial was marked by controversy and scandalous revelation made by the defendants which triggered angry responses by Zhvania’s family and some of his friends.

They announced that in the night of PM’s death, after breaking into an apartment rented by Zhvania, they found the former PM’s naked dead body and the naked body of another person, Raul Usupov, apparently indicating that there were sexual relations between the two. Raul Usupov was a young activist of the United National Movement, then the ruling political party in the country, and vice governor of the Kvemo Kartli region.

They didn’t want to “smear Zurab Zhvania’s reputation”, and didn’t speak out about these details during the years after the PM’s death.

The prosecutors, as well as Zurab Zhvania’s family and some of his friends, argue that this revelation was a desperate attempt by Dzadzamia and Kharshiladze to shield themselves from prosecution.

Gogla Zhvania, the brother of former PM and Georgian Dream MP, said of the jury’s decision as “adequate” and added that the public should expect “significant news regarding the main case,” referring to the ongoing criminal investigation into Zhvania’s death.

The investigation has great political significance, as the biggest opposition party, the UNM, suspects it is a hypocritical attempt to smear its reputation and asserts there are no reasons doubting the official cause of Zhvania’s death, accidental gas poisoning by a faulty gas heater, while Georgian Dream believes it was a premeditated murder which was covered up by the previous government.