Court finds ex-Interior Minister Merabishvili guilty in Girgvliani case

Vano Merabishvili did not attend the court sitting today., 20 Oct 2014 - 15:51, Tbilisi,Georgia

Tbilisi City Court has delivered a guilty verdict against Georgia’s former Interior Minister Ivane (Vano) Merabishvili and other ex-officials in the prolonged Girgvliani murder case.

Merabishvili was today sentenced to three years in prison. He was also banned from taking a high public post for two years and three months after his release.

Guram Girgvliani, the father of victim Sandro Girgvliani said this sentence was "nothing compared to the tragedy” the "murderers” caused for his family. However, taking Merabishvili’s charges against into account, he said he did not expect the Court to sentence him to a harsher penalty.

The ex-Minister was charged with fraud and abuse of authority in the Girgvliani case for faking testimonies related to the case. Today, the court said that based on the Absorption Principle and also the fact that the mentioned charges were amnestied in Georgia in 2012, Merabishvili’s sentence would make up three years.

It is the third guilty verdict against Merabishvili on other charges. 

Meanwhile, two other men involved in the case were found guilty for their role. Geronti Alania, who is currently in hiding, and Valerian Metreveli, both former employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were sentenced to four years and six months and a 2.3-year ban on working on a high public post. They were also fined 2,000 GEL.

Police have launched a search for Alania, while Merabishvili and Metreveli were taken to prison earlier.

Other former Interior officials, David (Data) Akhalaia and Oleg Melnikov, were also charged in the same case. Melnikov made a plea bargain after pleading guilty, while Akhalaia’s case was considered separately until he is returned to Georgia after fleeing to Greece.

Girgvliani’s 2006 murder case generated huge public interest, which fuelled criticism of the former government, in particular ex-Minister of Internal Affairs Merabishvili.

Tbilisi City Court held 37 sittings and questioned 74 witnesses in connection with this case.

Girgvliani, who was head of the United Georgian Bank's Foreign Department, was tortured and killed on January 28, 2006. He had been severely attacked and his body was found with multiple injuries near Okrokana cemetery.

According to different sources, the 28-year-old’s death was connected with a situation that developed at Sharden Bar, an elite Tbilisi bar, earlier that evening.

It was alleged former Inspector General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Vasil Sanodze was holding his birthday party with colleagues at the bar, accompanied by Merabishvili’s wife Tako Salakaia. She was a friend of Girgvliani's girlfriend, Tamar Maisuradze, who was also present at the party. Sources alleged Maisuradze was the reason why Girgvliani had an argument with the Ministry’s spokesperson Guram Donadze and other people at the table. Later that evening Girgvliani was found dead.

In April 2011 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg partially satisfied a lawsuit filed by the Girgvliani family against the Georgian government, and stated the investigation into Girgvliani’s death "clearly lacked the requisite, independence, impartiality, objectivity and thoroughness”.

The Court ordered the Georgian government to pay €50,000 (141,000 GEL) compensation to the Girgvliani family for moral damage.