Posted on Sep 05, 2019
Embassies in Tbilisi received an unusual invitation to attend a closed meeting on September 6th for diplomats, at which they would be briefed on the findings of two international experts regarding the case of Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, the founders of Georgia’s leading bank, JSC TBC Bank. The two international experts had been hired by the General Prosecutor’s Office, writes Gary Cartwright.
Mr Khazaradze and Mr Japaridze learned of the planned event after invitations started circulating in Tbilisi and they released a joint statement yesterday, saying: “The Prosecutor's Office is trying to shift the responsibility for their politicised decision, which has no legal basis, to the diplomatic corps”.
They went on to remind the Prosecutor’s Office that according to the Georgian Constitution, the only legitimate space where the prosecution can present evidence and prove a person’s guilt is at a court trial.
They added: “We demand a transparent investigation of the case, in compliance with all the standards guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia and international human rights law. If the authorities wish to involve international experts in the investigation, we consider that these experts should not be lawyers hired by the Prosecutor's Office, irrespective of their qualifications, but lawyers with independent international authority who will be able to provide complete and comprehensive information on the case and be able to create their own opinion regarding the current case independently.”
The 6 September closed briefing for diplomats was scheduled six days before Mr Khazaradze and Mr Japaridze’s court appearance, which had been set for 12 September. The timing of the meeting had drawn criticism among the international community, who considered the timing deliberate and an opportunity to shape perceptions of the case outside the proper forum of the court room.
Not long after Mr Khazaradze and Mr Japaridze released their statement, the General Prosecutor’s Office hastily postponed their invitation, suggesting the closed meeting would be at a later date in September due to “logistical reasons”. In parallel, the two men’s court date was postponed to 10 October, raising concerns that the General Prosecutor’s Office was planning the same “advance preview” for the diplomatic community with a similar window of time before the new court date.
One embassy employee said: “It was certainly an unusual invitation to receive and the yo-yo-ing date changes added to a feeling of discomfort among the diplomatic community here in Tbilisi, a sense that we were being asked to pick a side in a case before the defendants have even had their day in court.”
The Prosecutor General’s Office has denied planning the meeting: “As for the information spread by the defendants about the so-called closed meeting scheduled for September 6, we would like to state that no such meeting has been scheduled. The report prepared by highly qualified foreign experts will be introduced to international organisations, diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia and other stakeholders. It is absolutely inadequate and unacceptable to cast doubt on the impartiality of lawyers with international authority that they had been offered to prepare a report by Prosecutor General's Office of Georgia."
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