Dispatch – November 29/30: The Trial

Saakashvili Trial: Key Takeaways – UNM Member Suspects Misha’s Slow Murder Plot – Rumors of Garibashvili Replacement – Ivanishvili’s Bermuda Hearings

Humankind – and its best minds – may have invented court proceedings for people to seek justice and find fair judgment in disputes. In Georgia, the judiciary has long shed that role. As a consolation prize, we use hearings to gain fresh insights into the personalities of our leaders – both those on trial and those behind it. After all, there was a show before the rule of law. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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Der Prozess

MISHA AS WE KNOW HIM On November 29, the jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili was finally given the chance to appear before the court. This trial looks into accusations of abuse of power during the crackdown on a rally on November 7, 2007. Many ex-president’s supporters gathered at the Tbilisi City Court, and police presence was overwhelming as the defendant was escorted into the building. There were some scuffles, but the “attempted coup” forecast by the authorities as a pretext to keep Misha out of court was not tried (at least, it was not apparent. We are sure the security apparatus knows more). Despite the objections of the prosecutors, the judges let Saakashvili speak at length, citing his right as a defendant to do so, his standing as a former official, and the history of in-absentia hearings in the case. The defendant, who – while with marks of his 50-day hunger obvious, yet in high spirits – spoke for more than an hour before voluntarily leaving the courtroom.  This was the show he revels in, and all eyes were on him, like in those good old days. If you enjoy that kind of thing, or if that happens to be your job: the full transcript here.

NOT A MATERIAL BOY From the start, it appeared like he was appealing to Georgians who feel miserable, but also those who are bored, asking the viewers whether they miss “tempo and drive of development” or “the sense of pride in your country.” Then he went on talking about the motives behind his return from “Europe’s largest country [Ukraine]” – where he was “materially” better-off – while aware of possible grave consequences of arrival in Georgia. Boasting about his Ukraine reforms (and even making part of his address in Ukrainian), he said the main motive was him being “madly in love with Georgia” and unable to watch in peace of his office (which, he noted, was located just above the President’s office) as his homeland was falling apart.

HIM VS THEM Saakashvili talked a lot about how bad the current situation is compared to the country HE built and many good things HE did – reminding spectators what a good orator he can be, but also how much he likes to shine the spotlight on himself. HIS reforms, HIS achievements, HIS vision of state-building. The image of the David was painted against the predictably grim outline of Russia, the root of all the ill the country has found itself, then and now. It was the Russian plot he was averting in 2007 – with Oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili and his Imedi TV as key agents provocateur, and the violent handling of demonstrations happened, when inexperienced police could not handle their job well, Misha said. But he also admitted not all people who hit the streets back were Russian stooges – recalling “painful” [economy & policy] reforms leaving some poorer and many unable to “switch to the new rails,” thus creating “objective possibility” for them to be angry with the government. Whatever we think about Saakashvili’s justifications – obviously and logically self-serving, given the circumstances, Georgia’s recent history may indeed deserve a more cool-headed review.

THE HARDEST WORD And then it came to confessions. The most memorable moment. Some of his supporters expected Misha to not be sorry for anything, others hoped for a sliver of humility. „Did I have mistakes? More than enough. Many are such mistakes that I very, very much regret,” he said, before turning the cutting edge towards his accusers. It is the failed court reform that Saakashvili cited as his worst mistake, recalling late Culture Minister Nika Rurua who would warn him about the dire consequences of the judiciary being subjugated to the prosecutors. “I apologize to all those who were affected by [non-free courts], and for all other mistakes,” he went on, adding that “mistakes and misdemeanors are one thing, but crime – quite another.” And, the moment of humility quickly forgotten, he added, speaking about himself in the third person: “the founder of a Georgian state could not have been a criminal because the criminals do not found states, they destroy them.”

100 WAYS TO HARM YOUR EX UNM member Giorgi Chaladze, a lawyer who was a frequent guest at government-critical TV channels as public health expert prior to starting his party career early in 2021, raised…um…concerns about risks to ex-President’s life and sanity: in Gori military hospital, where Saakashvili is currently undergoing post-hunger treatment, just under the inmate’s window, Chaladze apparently spotted a dubious car with a couple of antennas sticking out, looking like a vehicular mobile – or bomb – signal jammer.

The car “radiates electromagnetic waves,” Chaladze said adjusting his tinfoil hat, and added that this radiation puts the lives of those within hundred meters at dire risk of leukemia, mental disorder, and even death. “Now think for yourselves, how the government kills the third President of our country,” said Chaladze. True, the government has been less than generous with Saakashvili and parking jammers in the hospital yard might be a bit over the top, but one thing we may advise Mr. Saakashvili: if you have been feeling unwell lately, please check your surroundings for emitting cars or… toxic people.

ANOTHER FAREWELL STORY The rumor mill has it that Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has already written his farewell address (which, if true, we hope is not too lengthy). Apparently, Garibashvili plans to pin Misha’s arrest, “successful” elections, and the virtual destruction of the oppositions’ evil plans to his lapel and bid all of us farewell. The grapevine news has it that as a replacement of this multi-successful manager, the ruling party – or whoever controls it – is considering the Infrastructure Minister Irakli Karseladze. With his career as the manager of Ivanishvili’s white elephant projects (just cast a glance at the Liberty Square wavy monstrosity), he has all the necessary credentials from the patron. An alternative pick – rumors have it – is the current parliamentary Speaker Kakha Kuchava, GD’s rare remaining nice-guy-on-duty. Got EU flag?! He will hang it.

Needless to say, this is a persistent rumor, but in Georgia, these tend to materialize at some point or another. PM Garibashvili has driven his toxicity quotient to dizzying levels even on his own scale. On the other hand, he was lately craving the spotlight for obviously rushed, but populist and long-term reform plans, such as unpolished labor force activation draft policies or restrictions on online gambling. May these long-term ambitions actually point at the short term remaining to leave a legacy? We must wait and see.

CALL HIM BY YOUR NAME The rumors now strangely follow the recordings leaked from Bidzina Ivanishvili’s remote testimony before Bermuda court in relation to a Credit Suisse case where former Georgian Prime Minister reportedly lost hundreds of millions to fraud. The leaked footage shows Ivanishvili recalling the role of Garibashvili back when he was working for the billionaire privately. “Garibashvili was no authority for me, Garibashvili was no finance specialist,” says Ivanishvili while pleading his case, later listing his subordinate’s earlier duties as managing his correspondence, arranging meetings, assisting in calls or transactions. He chuckles in response to the question of whether Garibashvili was a sort of a secretary, and says “call him whatever you wish.”

The Georgian Dream founder may have just talked business, but knowing Garibashvili’s unhidden admiration for Ivanishvili, and the Georgian audience being drawn to “unrequited love” dramas, the video went viral. And there were also other interesting insights from that hearing about how otherwise private Ivanishvili does his business or talks economy. For example, he was quoted by Bloomberg as slamming Credit Suisse, saying he has never encountered such rudeness “even in the conditions of the wild capitalism in Russia and in Georgia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.” Franchement, messieurs, où sont vos manières?!

That’s the full lid for today. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the tongue-in-cheek coverage of Georgia’s political life.