American medical expert interviewed in court hearing for imprisoned ex-Pres Saakashvili

Doctor Shahin Lahan, an American health professional, was remotely interviewed on Monday at a trial hearing over former President Mikheil Saakashvili. Photo: RFE/RL, 09 Jan 2023 - 19:22, Tbilisi,Georgia

Doctor Shahin Lahan, an American health professional who contributed to a medical report on the imprisoned former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, on Monday told Tbilisi City Court dementia was a “major health issue” for the former official’s condition in detention.

Lahan, who had been commissioned by the Georgian-based rehabilitation centre Empathy to contribute to the organisation’s recent report on the neurological condition of the politician, was interviewed during the latest trial hearing on whether Saakashvili will be granted release or postponement of the rest of his sentence on medical grounds.

Along with dementia - a general term describing impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions - Saakashvili also suffers from seizures and polyneuropathy, or a malfunction of peripheral nerves, he told the Court.

Lahan also said Saakashvili had been “healthy” before his arrest following the clandestine return from Ukraine to Georgia in October 2021, and claimed his current “complicated health” was related to stress and alleged ill-treatment in custody. 

Contesting the claim on Saakashvili’s good health before his arrest, Georgia’s Special Penitentiary Service presented health records showing a range of symptoms displayed and treatments undergone by the former President during his lifetime.

Lawyers claimed Saakashvili was unable to participate in today's trial due to "poor health". Photo: IPN. 

These included a diagnosis of meningo-encephalitis at the age of 3 to 4, injuries sustained in Tbilisi and Turkey between 2012 and 2013, a 2017 sleeve gastrectomy for treating “resistant, pathological obesity” of third degree, Post-Covid Syndrome in 2020 and treatment for anxiety and depression in 2021, before his arrest in Tbilisi.

Malkhaz Urtmelidze, the Head of the Medical Department of the Service, also cited Saakashvili as having said he had consumed up to two bottles of cognac together with medication to calm himself down before his arrest, and challenged the American professional on whether the intake of the alcohol dose was “normal”. In his response, Lahan acknowledged consumption of alcohol in taking medicine for treatment of depression and anxiety was “not acceptable” from the medical point of view. 

Urtmelidze also countered the health professional’s comment on dementia by saying Saakashvili would not be able to “speak five languages or write letters from prison” had he been suffering from the diagnosis.

The health report commissioned by Empathy, which had pointed to more than 20 health issues and raised the potential of “coma and death” for Saakashvili, was cited by the imprisoned politician’s lawyers in their appeal to the court on December 1 to either release Saakashvili or postpone the rest of his sentence. 

Responding to the appeal, authorities said Saakashvili was engaging in “self-harm” and refusing to follow doctors’ instructions in order to “escape justice” through the medical cause.

Saakashvili, a citizen of Ukraine, was arrested in Tbilisi ahead of municipal elections and is now serving a six-year term for abuse of power in two separate cases stemming back to his time in office, while three other cases are pending.

The next trial hearing on whether he will be granted release or postponement of sentence is scheduled for Wednesday.