CoE urges more effective investigation into detention of ex-Interior Minister Merabishvili

  • Vano Merabishvili left prison in February, 2020., 12 Oct 2020 - 13:53, Tbilisi,Georgia

The CoE Committee of Ministers has urged for a more effective investigation to be conducted into the detention of former Interior and Prime Minister of Georgia Vano Merabishvili, who was released from prison earlier this year. 

The case concerns alleged violations of Merabishvili’s rights during his pre-trial detention in the context of criminal proceedings instituted in December 2012 and January 2013 for alleged embezzlement and abuse of official authority.

Merabishvili was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention on May 21, 2013, where he remained until he was convicted at first instance on February 17, 2014 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. 

The European Court of Human Rights found that while the Kutaisi City Court gave relevant and sufficient reasons when the applicant was first placed in pre-trial detention on May 21,  2013, it did not give sufficient reasons for his continued detention when he applied for release on  September 25, 2013 and October 7, 2013. 

Merabishvili decided to return to politics, Photo: IPN.

ECHR also found that the predominant purpose of the applicant’s pre-trial detention changed over time: ‘while in the beginning it was for the legitimate purpose of the investigation of offences based on a reasonable suspicion, the predominant purpose later became to obtain information about the bank accounts of  former President Mikheil Saakashvili, and the death in 2005 of the then Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania’. 

In this connection the court found it proven that at around 1.30 a.m. on 14 December 2013 the applicant was covertly removed from his cell and driven to what he believed was the penitentiary department building in Tbilisi, where he was questioned by the chief public prosecutor and another man about Zhvania’s death and Saakashvili’s bank accounts,” the court said, adding that Merabishvili claimed to have been told by the chief prosecutor  that if he provided information he would be allowed to leave Georgia but that if he did not, his detention conditions would worsen and he would not be released until there was a change of government.

ECHR further found that the initial investigation into this incident was marred by a series of omissions which were not corrected by the second investigation carried out by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office between June 2016 and February 2017.

The georgian authorities submitted an updated action plan on 29 June 2020 (DH-DD(2020)606) and a communication on 5 August 2020 (DH-DD(2020)668). 

The most recent statement released by the Committee of Ministers says that ‘it is worrying that, almost three years after the court (ECHR) rendered its judgment, the reopened investigation does not appear to have complied with the convention requirements of effectiveness.’ 

See the full statement here.