Discontent Simmers in Abkhazia over Controversial ‘Doctors’ Case’

Discontent is simmering in Abkhazia after the occupied region’s prosecutor’s office and special forces raided the republican hospital on February 10, as part of a renewed criminal investigation against hospital’s renown chief physician Apollon Gurgulia and his deputy Georgy Vouba, over alleged embezzlement of RUB 2.87 million (USD 38.8 thousand).

The raid prompted 235 doctors to address Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania and speaker Valery Kvarchia in an open letter on February 13, expressing their discontent that by the special operation involving police dogs and masked officers, the prosecutor’s office violated ethical norms.

The doctors said the OMON (Special Purpose Mobile Unit) acted “as if they were after especially dangerous criminals or terrorists,” and held its “aggressive operation” responsible for causing Vouba’s “heart attack.” The medics also alleged the police did not have the court’s search warrant.

Abkhaz parliament discussed following the appeal on February 15 the possible violations during the investigative operation.

At the hearing, chief Abkhaz prosecutor Adgur Agrba said Vouba initially refused to cooperate with the investigation, and that police were forced to promptly search the doctors’ cabinets without a warrant “to prevent possible evidence tampering.” The prosecutor’s side also denied the allegations that the OMON planned to arrest the doctors.

According to the prosecution, the two doctors signed an agreement with entrepreneur Aslan Tskua, handing him at the expense of hospital budget reagents free of charge, that were later used illegally for paid laboratory services. The prosecution said it initially sought to impose an administrative penalty on the doctors via the health ministry, which failed to make the medics compensate for the damage. After the failure and additional checks, the prosecution said, it found enough evidence to reinitiate the criminal case. 

But in a blow to the prosecution, the court in Sokhumi refused to send Aslan Tskua, the only arrested suspect, to pretrial detention, concluding that the prosecutor could not present enough evidence.

The Sokhumi city court on February 19, however, rejected the defense side’s motion and greenlighted the continuation of the investigation as legal and justified.

The opposition condemned ‘the prosecutor’s office’ for its unethical operation, and blamed the ‘government’ for masking the case under fake fight against corruption, noting that the real corruption cases remain uninvestigated.

“Amtsakhara,” party chaired by Alkhas Kvitsinia, head of Bzhania’s administration, called on Abkhaz lawmakers against meddling in the prosecution, stating that the principle of the law and equality should be respected even in the cases of “respected citizens.”

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