US sanctions on Georgian judges “incomprehensible” after West backed their lifetime appointment - Vice PM

  • Thea Tsulukiani, the Georgian Vice Prime Minister, on Tuesday said she “strongly, vocally and on principle condemn the US decision on the judges”. Photo: Government press office, 11 Apr 2023 - 14:00, Tbilisi,Georgia

Thea Tsulukiani, the Georgian Vice Prime Minister, on Tuesday said the United States Department of State’s sanctions on Georgian judges were “incomprehensible” in light of the West’s “backing” of their lifetime appointment to ensure further independence of the domestic judiciary. 

In comments for the media, Tsulukiani, who previously served as the country’s Justice Minister and lawyer of the European Court of Human Rights, said the State Department imposing visa restriction on three acting and one former Georgian judges for alleged corruption last week “without presenting evidence” was “unacceptable”. 

I would like to strongly, vocally and on principle condemn the US decision on the judges as unacceptable, especially when it was an unexpected move. Partners and friends probably do not behave like that, although sometimes there is some misunderstanding in friendship and partnership”, she said, adding the US-Georgia “friendship and partnership” had “such great roots and tradition” that the development would not damage the ties. 

“However, those of us who represent the Georgian nation in the Government are required to condemn what is an unacceptable act for the history, sovereignty and independence of our country in the form of the sanctions”, Tsulukiani noted. 

The official reiterated her Government had “insisted on playing by the rules, especially when it comes to friends and partners”. 

In comments alleging examples of unfair treatment by Georgia’s partners, Tsulukiani criticised the European Union for its decision last year to grant its membership candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova but not to Georgia. She stressed the decision had been “unfair”, and claimed Tbilisi was “far ahead of both of the friendly nations” on its European integration path. 

On the topic of the State Department sanctions, she also said the decision was “inadmissible as no evidence has been presented so far. This decision is also incomprehensible in the light of the fact that it was the West that was in favour of these judges becoming lifelong judges'', she added in reference to recommendations issued for the Georgian judiciary after the change of Government in 2012.

The Minister said she would refrain from speaking publicly on “a lot” of unspecified related topics she claimed the knowledge of. 

I will simply remind everyone that together with the Georgian Dream political team, I was at the helm of the first, second and the third wave of the justice reform and the introduction of the Juvenile Justice Code in Georgia, which, along with the fourth wave of the reform, had been implemented by the previous Parliament and was a great leap for the country’s judiciary”, she said. 

The Minister claimed the reforms placed Georgia ahead of several EU and NATO member states and demonstrated its “great progress”. 

The State Department on Wednesday imposed visa restrictions on judges Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze, Irakli Shengelia and Valerian Tsertsvadze for their alleged “involvement in significant corruption”, and said they had abused “their positions as court chairmen and members of Georgia’s High Council of Justice, undermining the rule of law and the public’s faith in Georgia’s judicial system”.

The judges and officials from the ruling Georgian Dream party have called the decision “unfair” and “groundless”.