Georgia: Two Corpses for an Ex-Interior Minister
A new, scandalous video that shows former Georgian Prime Minister and strongman Interior Minister Vano Merabisvhili apparently ordering two killings during the alleged 2009 Mukhrovani military mutiny looks likely to spark a fresh firestorm over rule of law in the South Caucasus state.
“I need two corpses. Bring me two corpses. The bonus is high,” Merabishvili, then interior minister, is shown hurriedly telling military officers at an outdoor meeting at Mukhrovani, a tank-battalion camp near the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. At the time, President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration claimed that the mutiny was orchestrated by Moscow.
After a few cuts in the video, Saakashvili and senior members from his circle of trust – then Security Minister Zurab Adeishvili and Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava – show up at a building apparently on the base. “Where is Vano?” Saakashvili asks, looking at his watch, and then around. "Vano, what should we do?" he asks the off-screen interior minister as the video ends.
At a January 30 court appearance for unrelated charges he is facing, Merabishvili acknowledged that he had ordered the killings, but asserted that the "two corpses" referred to "two Russian advisers" who, he claimed, "were participating" in the uprising, news outlets reported. "I'm not ashamed that I made this statement," he said. "On the contrary, this was my duty . . ."
The alleged "two Russian advisers" have never been mentioned before. Merabishvili claimed that the two -- for reasons unknown -- were killed by organizers of the mutiny. Neither did he explain why he or other UNM officials were obsessively recording on camera everything they did or said, leaving ample opportunity for political posterity to use the comments against them.According to the 2009 version of events, ex-military commander Gia Krialashvili was shot dead in a later shootout with the police during the manhunt for the mutiny's alleged masterminds. Three commanders were convicted of plotting a coup and several others were found guilty of various charges in a series of trials that rights groups watched with a high degree of suspicion.
The general prosecutor's office announced that it is investigating the Merabishvili recording. The identity of its creator is not publicly known.
The timing of the video’s appearance -- no matter who was its author -- does, though, suggest an attempt to shape public opinion about Merabishvili, who recently managed to win back some favorable public opinion over his claims of political retribution by the ruling Georgian Dream.
Western officials repeatedly have expressed concern over the ex-minister's protracted incarceration as a potential indicator of a Georgian Dream vendetta against Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), of which Merabishvili is the general-secretary.
Recently Merabishvili claimed he had been intimidated by prosecutors and requested to make public the CCTV recording of his cell. After an in-house investigation, which was criticized as inconclusive by rights watchdogs, penitentiary officials responded that the accusations were false and said that the video recordings he requested to be made public have been deleted.
Instead, the Mukhrovani mutiny video hit the Internet.
Compromising videos have been a tried political weapon for both the Georgian Dream and UNM, with the latter feeling the bulk of the political heat.
This time should prove little different.