Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 228

Georgia’s Supreme Court began on December 1 the criminal trial of Jaba Ioseliani, former head of the banned Mkhedrioni [Knights] political-paramilitary organization, and 14 alleged co-conspirators. They are accused of involvement in the August 1995 assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze as well as earlier crimes, including banditry and the creation of unlawful armed units. The prosecution’s case comprises some 80 volumes. Ioseliani and some of the other defendants have been in pre-trial detention since as far back as November 1995; at that time, Ioseliani technically possessed parliamentary immunity. These and other circumstances have triggered complaints that Ioseliani’s and some other defendants’ legal rights were violated.

Ioseliani, a flamboyant figure at age 71, is an accomplished philologist and playwright, and was also an authority in organized crime circles. He served many years in Soviet prisons, then became temporarily a virtual kingmaker during the first years of Georgia’s independence by using the power of the well-armed Mkhedrioni. While organized along conspiratorial lines, the Mkhedrioni were also represented in parliament and government. Ioseliani, with his ally Tengiz Kitovani, played a key role in the 1992 overthrow of the late president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, which opened the way for Shevardnadze’s return to power. The Mkhedrioni then fell out with Shevardnadze, grew interspersed with the criminal underworld, were largely responsible for the turmoil that continued to plague Georgia, and were banned in 1995. Some chieftains and gunmen have since been tried and convicted. Last month, the Supreme Court sentenced 13 mostly senior Mkhedrioni members to prison terms of up to 12 years. (See Monitor, November 17)

Prominent defendants in the current trial include a former deputy chief of State Security and the former commander of that department’s special-purpose unit. The former chief of State Security and accused organizer of the 1995 abortive coup, Igor Giorgadze, has found haven in Russia and may, from afar, loom large over the trial proceedings in Tbilisi. (Kavkazia Press, Iprinda, Russian agencies, November 28-December 1)

Rizvon Sodirov R.I.P.