US concerned by Georgia’s summons of ex-President Saakashvili

Ex-President Saakashvili speaks to journalists at a polling station Tbilisi, on October 1, 2012. Photo by AFP: Vano Shlamov., 24 Mar 2014 - 11:16, Tbilisi,Georgia

The US Government has voiced concern over Georgian authorities' decision to call former President Mikheil Saakashvili for questioning in multiple criminal investigations.

"No one is above the law but launching multiple simultaneous investigations involving a former president raises legitimate concerns about political retribution, particularly when legal and judicial institutions are still fragile," US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement on March 23.

The Foreign Minister of Georgia Maia Panjikidze appraised concern by the US over Saakashvili’s summoning and said they would take advice from the US extremely seriously as was "the most important strategic partner of Georgia”.

"The US is the greatest friend and strategic partner of Georgia. We always pay the greatest attention to any of their statements,” Panjikidze said.

"As it is said in their statement "no one is above the law” and we share that opinon. But we have to be careful because law enforcement agencies are still fragile in Georgia. This is the starting point of this statement,” she said.

The Foreign Minister believed the US knew the Georgian law enforcement agencies were weak but the court system has never been as free as it was currently.

"The processes have to be implemented transparently and justly and this is the guarantee we would give to our international partners,” Panjikidze said, speaking from The Hague where she is attending the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit.

Regarding the statement where the US State Department argued Georgia must "focus the nation's energies on the future”, Panjikidze answered that this was the path Georgia was on.

"Georgia is oriented to developing the economy as well as implementing reforms that are important to achieving this goal,” she said.

Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani believed Saakashvili could be called by the Prosecution as a witness.

"No one in the world has a guarantee that he would not be called upon in a criminal case by the Prosecution. This is happening in countries all over the world, including Georgia,” she said.

On March 22 former Georgian President Saakashvili has been summoned to the Chief Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to be questioned as a witness on a number of high-profile cases including the 2005 death of then Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.

Saakashvili is not in Georgia as he left the country soon after his second term ended in November last year. He has taken up a post lecturing at Boston's Tufts University.

When asked by Georgian journalists in the Netherlands if he would return home to be questioned, Saakashvili said: "I am not going to make Putin's dreams come true by arriving in Tbilisi for questioning.”

The country's current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has threatened to put the former President on a wanted list if he failed to appear.