The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia has charged former Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze over a 2017 fight with then–Auditor General Lasha Tordia. Partskhaladze, who served as chief prosecutor for just 47 days, has been a frequent subject of criticism, including over his alleged role in the Omega tapes scandal.
On Monday, Tbilisi City Court granted Partskhaladze ₾5,000 ($3,700) bail, as requested by the prosecution.
Georgian media reported he had been questioning that day, but news of his first court hearing was made public only a day later.
A spokesperson for the Prosecutor’s Office told journalists that they chose bail as the case concerned a ‘less grave crime’.
Partskhaladze is accused of assaulting Lasha Tordia, then-outgoing Auditor General, in a club in Tbilisi in May 2017. According to a spokesperson, Partskhaladze maintains his innocence.
According to Partskhaladze, a drunk Tordia and his companions assaulted him first. The claim appeared consistent with footage released by the Interior Ministry 10 days after the incident, in which Tordia is shown arguing with and then hitting Partskhaladze.
However, Tordia protested that sections of footage in which Partskhaladze attacked him first had not made public.
The Auditor General insisted Partskhaladze attacked him over a probe of the former chief prosecutor’s business activities related to the transfer of plots of land in 2016. He said the investigation into the brawl covered for Partskhaladze.
Since the start of the probe into the fight, the Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating allegations of ‘battery’ unrelated to Tordia’s duties — something that rights groups like Transparency International Georgia, the Human Rights Centre, and Tordia himself criticised.
‘It is important that the investigation also covers the crime committed against governing institutions, more specifically, violence against governmental officers related to their official capacity’, a joint statement from 10 local NGOs released soon after the incident said.
In May 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office summoned Partskhaladze for questioning over the brawl a day after Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze urged them to do so. Kobakhidze did not rule out establishing an investigative parliamentary commission.
On 22 May, investigators shared their preliminary findings, according to which, Tordia was identified as the first attacker.
The authorities did not updated the public about the progress of the investigation until 6 November, less than a week before the presidential election run-off.
The Prosecutor’s Office told journalists that the delay was caused by the involvement of a group of ‘international experts’ into the investigation, something they decided to do due to the high profile of the case.
According to the Human Rights Centre, who are representing Tordia, the ex-Auditor General was not granted the victim status in the investigation until Tuesday, despite them having requested it from the beginning of the investigation.
Following reports of Partskhaladze’s questioning by prosecutors, Tordia, who now resides outside Georgia, speculated an arrangement between the former Chief Prosecutor and the authorities could have been made.
‘A small jail time to survive the elections’, Tordia wrote on his Facebook page on 5 November.
Sergi Kapanadze, a leader of the opposition European Georgia Party, called the news a sign of a government in ‘agony’.
‘They became so concerned with their defeat that now they pretend in front of the public to solve some problems’
‘This case has been shelved by the Prosecutor’s Office for over a year […] everything was available through video footage, it shouldn’t have taken so much time [to investigate]’, Kapanadze told Rustavi 2.
Kakha Kaladze, General Secretary of Georgian Dream and Tbilisi mayor told journalists on Tuesday that ‘no one is untouchable in this country’.
‘Anyone who commits a crime will face justice and be made responsible before the law.’
Partskhaladze in the Omega Tapes scandal
In late September Partskhaladze became embroiled in the Omega Tapes scandal.
In a 30 September interview with Rustavi 2, Zaza Okuashvili, whose Omega Group owns a tobacco company, a car dealership, and TV station Iberia TV, accused the Chair of the Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili of attempting to extort money and cars from him.
Okuashvili claimed Ivanishvili had ‘delegated’ the execution of the racketeering to Otar Partskhaladze.
According to Rustavi 2 and Okuashvili, Partskhaladze kidnapped and beat up former Sports Minister Levan Kipiani, who was helping to extort money, over a disagreement during the extortion.
Rustavi 2 aired a series of secret recordings of a conversation between Okuashvili and Kipiani, where the latter did not challenge that the incident with Partskhaladze took place.
After the start of investigation over the claims, Kipiani denied the conflict with Partskhaladze, calling the tapes staged and doctored.
Nevertheless, the latest 22 October video recording aired by Rustavi 2 showed Kipiani speaking with Omega Group managers about the confrontation with the former Chief Prosecutor.
In the video, Kipiani also confirms that Ivanishvili was informed about the conflict and was involved in settling tensions between the two.
On 5 November, the Prosecutor’s Office told Georgian media that Partskhaladze was also expected to be questioned over Omega Tapes.
[Read more about the Omega Tapes scandal and Iberia TV on OC Media here]
Partskhaladze served as chief prosecutor for only 47 days in 2013, resigning on 30 December soon after the opposition United National Movement Party claimed he had served 15 months in jail in Germany.
They said he had been convicted of robbery and theft and use of force to retain stolen goods in 2011 in Augsburg, Germany.
Several days before his resignation, Partskhaladze admitted to assaulting a police officer in 2010.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, former Prime Minister and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, who is often accused of being the ‘ruler behind the curtains’, announced earlier in 2016 that his son, Bera Ivanishvili, was godfather to Partskhaladze’s grandchild.
After the scandal and Partskhaladze’s resignation, Ivanishvili admitted the government had failed to properly check his background.
Partskhaladze was also implicated in scandal during his short-term tenure as chief prosecutor.
In December 2013, Vano Merabishvili, the former Interior Minister and a close ally of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, claimed that while in detention facing charges of ‘abuse of power’, he was covertly removed from his cell at night and delivered to talk with Partskhaladze.
While the official Georgian investigation didn’t confirm the incident took place, in November 2017, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) called the reports of Merabishvili’s late-night questioning during his pre-trial detention in 2013 ‘sufficiently convincing and therefore proven’.
On 14 October, Rustavi 2 aired a series of ‘secret’ recordings involving Mirza Subeliani, a former high-ranking official at the Prosecutor’s Office detained over a failure to report the Khorava Street murders.
[Understand the tapes scandals on OC Media: Georgia’s tapes scandals suggest something is rotten at the top of Georgian politics]
In one tape, Subeliani, allegedly talking to his visitors in a pre-trial detention facility, said Otar Partskhaladze still ‘ruled’ the Prosecutor’s Office.
Subeliani, who allegedly bragged in tapes about ‘cleaning up after’ several high-level officials, headed the Internal Investigation of the Corrections Ministry in 2013, responsible for the probe into Merabishvili’s claim against Partskhaladze.
Partskhaladze was also accused of accumulating unexplained wealth, mainly in the form of real estate, during and after his resignation and of having businesses engaged in corruption schemes tied to the government.