Georgian Dep. Minister of Internal Affairs resigns following video tape scandal
Opposition surveillance case in Georgia
Journalists have accused Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia Kakha Sabanadze of illegal actions against the participants of large protests in Tbilisi on the night of June 20-21, 2019 and of spying on the opposition.
He announced that he was resigning in order not to interfere with a fair investigation.
“I believe it is necessary to conduct a thorough and objective investigation, and in order to ensure the credibility of this process, I am resigning. I think this is a precedent and will help other officials to act with a high degree of responsibility in the event of objective questions from the public,” Sabanadze said on his Facebook page on March 23.
Protests in Tbilisi in June 2019: what happened
On the night of June 21, 2019, a protest action of many thousands was held in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi. The dispersal was particularly brutal, with the use of rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas. Hundreds of people were injured, two lost their eyes.
The immediate cause was the incident at the opening of the International Orthodox Parliamentary Forum in the Georgian parliament that day. One of the organizers of the forum, Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov, chaired the meeting sitting in the chair of the Georgian speaker.
According to various sources, up to 20 thousand people took part in the protest. There were attempts to break into parliament, which were repulsed by the guards. On the morning of June 21, the special forces went on the offensive and dispersed the protest. The authorities qualified the June 20 protest as an attempted coup.
The opposition, however, says the main goal was to ensure free parliamentary elections, in particular to adopt a fully proportional (party) system as a basis. They never succeeded in accepting this requirement. The opposition declared the elections held on October 31, 2020 to be rigged and gave up their seats in parliament. There is actually a one-party parliament in Georgia, and a severe political crisis continues.
Surveillance of oppositionists, destruction of recordings from surveillance cameras – what journalists have proved
TV Pirveli and Mtavari TV channels published two reports. Mtavari TV published an interview with former intelligence officer Ivane Gulashvili, who is now detained on charges of divulging state secrets.
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An anonymous source provided the interview to the TV company; it was recorded long ago – on November 24, 2019, shortly after the dispersal of the protest. In the video, Gulashvili talks about secret orders he received during the demonstrations in June 2019, including organizing the surveillance of political and religious leaders.
According to Mtavari, initially Gulashvili was subordinate to high-ranking security officials Nikoloz Sharadze (now he is the head of the border police). Later, Gulashvili was transferred to the direct subordination of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Kakhaber Sabanadze.
“I have a lot of secret records for which they could kill me,” Gulashvili said.
He said that in 2014 he was instructed to install surveillance cameras in the house of lawyer Anna Dolidze. He entered the apartment, breaking the locks with the help of a master key. After footage of her personal life was obtained, the cameras were removed from the house, Gulashvili said.
Anna Dolidze was at various times the Deputy Minister of Defense, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary of the President and a member of the High Council of Justice of Georgia. She is currently an active politician. Dolidze said that so far no attempts have been made to blackmail her with personnel from her personal life.
Spying on a Muslim religious leader
Gulashvili also said that he installed a special virus into the computer of Vagif Akperov, who at that time was the sheikh of the Muslim Administration of Georgia. The security service tried to obtain his personal information, Gulashvili said.
This story is indirectly confirmed by the circumstances under which Akperov abandoned the position of the sheikh in 2014. He then said that he was leaving voluntarily, but also said that he had been blackmailed by the security service, threatening to release classified recordings.
June 20 case
Gulashvili said in an interview that Kakha Sabanadze gave him many orders in June 2019, when protests swept across the country. In particular, he damaged a large screen installed in front of the parliament building, on which the speeches of opposition leaders were broadcast where during the rally. He also disabled microphones and loudspeakers to interfere with the protest. And later he was instructed to remove the recordings from the security cameras around the perimeter of the parliament building.
In addition, Gulashvili received an order to install a GPS tracking device on the bottom of the car of one of the founders of the Mtavari TV channel, opposition politician Giorgi Rurua. Several months later, Rurua was arrested and convicted on charges of illegal possession of firearms. The opposition considers him a “political prisoner” and demands his release.
The Pirveli TV report featured hidden footage allegedly filmed at the office of Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Kakha Sabanadze. According to the footage, it was he who conducted a special operation on the night of June 20 and gave orders. The channel claims that it has confirmation that it was Sabanadze who gave the order to damage the microphones and the entire sound transmission system so that opposition leaders could not lead the thousands of people who came to the rally.
Sabanadze is considered one of the most loyal supporters of former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia in Georgia. His persecution, according to political observers, also meant the persecution of the prime minister himself.
Prosecutor’s office launches case
In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said that an investigation has begun on possible invasion of privacy and abuse of office by several government officials.
This is the second secret recording scandal in Georgia over the past month. On March 7, the Pirveli TV channel aired an audio recording provided by an anonymous source, in which the current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, the head of state security Anzor Chubinidze and the son of the informal ruler of Georgia Bera Ivanishvili discuss the punishment of teenagers who criticized Beru on social networks.