European Court grand chamber announces judgment on ex-PM Merabishvili’s case

Vano Merabishvili did not attend the court sitting today., 28 Nov 2017 - 16:34, Tbilisi,Georgia

The pre-trial detention of former Georgian Prime Minister Ivane (Vano) Merabishvili was lawful, but later it was unduly used as a means to exert pressure on him, says the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR’s Grand Chamber announced its decision on the Merabishvili case this afternoon.

The case concerned the arrest and pre-trial detention of Merabishvili, and his complaint that there had been ulterior purposes behind these measures. Merabishvili namely alleged that the arrest and the pre-trial detention had aimed to remove him from the political scene, and that the Chief Prosecutor had attempted to use his detention as leverage to pressure him to provide information about other unrelated cases.

In today’s verdict, the ECHR said that Merabishvili’s pre-trial detention had not principally been meant to remove him from Georgia’s political scene. However, the Court concluded that the predominant purpose of that restriction had changed over time.

"While in the beginning that purpose had been the investigation of offences based on a reasonable suspicion, later on the predominant purpose became to obtain information about [former Georgian Prime Minister Zurab] Zhvania’s death and [former Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili’s bank accounts”, the verdict declared.

The Grand Chamber held unanimously that there had been no violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to Merabishvili’s arrest or his pre-trial detention; neither had there been violation of Article 5 § 3 (entitlement of a detainee to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial) with regard to his initial placement in pre-trial detention.

It also held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 3 in that, at least from 25 September 2013 onwards, his pre-trial detention had ceased to be based on sufficient grounds; and by nine votes to eight, that there had been a violation of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) taken in conjunction with Article 5 § 1.

The Court held, by nine votes to eight, that Georgia is to pay Merabishvili €4,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

Georgia’s Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani held a press briefing following the announcement of today’s judgment.  Tsulukiani said that the key point of the verdict was that Merabishvili’s pre-trail detention did not have political motives and that the Grand Chamber’s decision ended all speculations regarding this issue.

As for the part in which the Court established violation, Tsulukiani said that the opinions of 17 judges were divided significantly and she stressed that the decision was made with nine judges in favour and eight against.   

She also stressed that Merabishvili had initially requested €15,000 as a compensation but the Grand Chamber only granted him €4,000, which Georgia must pay within three months. Tsulukiani stressed that Georgia was not even demanded to cover legal costs, such as lawyers’ fees. 

The ECHR’s Grand Chamber reviewed the Merabishvili case after the Government of Georgia appealed an earlier decision made in his case.

Merabishvili is currently serving a prison sentence in Tbilisi. He was convicted in February 2014 of the majority of the charges against him, including vote-buying, misappropriation of property and breach of the inviolability of another person’s home. He was also convicted in three additional sets of criminal proceedings for offences involving abuse of official authority when he was Minister of the Interior.