The verdict is in for a controversial murder case that involves several officials from Georgia's Interior Ministry, but the political fall-out could be long in coming for the government, with one minister charging that the trial was not legitimate.
On July 6, Gia Alania, former head of the first unit of the Interior Ministry's Department for Constitutional Security (DCS), was sentenced to eight years in prison for inflicting injuries that resulted in the death of Sandro Girgvliani, head of the international relations department for United Georgian Bank. Avtandil Aptsiauri, Aleksander Gachava and Mikheil Bibiluri, also from the DCS, were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on the same charge.
The case has been highly politicized since early February, when a television news magazine report alleged that four top-level Interior Ministry officials may have ordered Girgvliani's January 27 murder in response to a spat they had with the banker at a downtown Tbilisi cafe. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Opposition party leaders have demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili in connection with the killing.
But with the verdicts has come no sense of closure. Mayhem and fistfights broke out in Tbilisi City Court chambers following the verdicts' announcement as opposition party members and relatives of the victim clashed with court officials. Meanwhile, 200-300 protesters rallied outside the court to condemn what they believe was a biased trial that let the true perpetrators go unpunished. The protests continued on July 7 outside of Tbilisi State University.
Reactions within the government could also prove divergent. In a July 7 interview with EurasiaNet, Minister of Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava, who was present at the trial, commented that the court process was clearly not open and that the trial's results have no basis in reality.
"When you look at the facts, the murder was clearly an order. The men convicted didn't even know Girgvliani from Bukhaidze," Khaindrava said, referring to Levan Bukhaidze, a friend of Girgvliani who was kidnapped and beaten along with the banker, but managed to escape. "This process won't end soon and it is going to be very painful
Paul Rimple is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi.