The Georgian government’s investigation into the shooting of a prominent opposition figure could prove this election year to be a test-case of both its ability to fight crime and its willingness to divorce politics from justice.
So far, little is known about the investigation into the February 26 shooting of Alexi Petriashvili, who served as state minister for ties with NATO and the European Union from 2012 until 2014. Petriashvili’s colleagues, citing the investigation, have declined to elaborate to media, but have expressed thanks to Interior Minister Giorgi Mghebrishvili for meeting with them and promising to commit “very serious resources” to the investigation.
The attack happened in broad daylight while Petriashvili, 45, one of the leaders of the tiny, pro-Western Free Democrats Party, was visiting the grave of a friend in an outlying section of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. One of the two unidentified male assailants held three friends of Petriashvili at gunpoint, while the second beat the former cabinet minister with a baseball bat and shot him three times with a pistol. The attackers retreated when a woman from a nearby apartment building screamed that she had called the police, Petriashvili’s friends said.
Two bullets hit Petriashvili in his legs. Fearing complications, doctors opted against removing the third bullet stuck near his kidney, but said that Petriashvili was on his way to recovery.
Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili visited Petriashvili in the hospital, while Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili met the leader of the Free Democrats Party, ex-Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, to promise a swift investigation.
The Free Democrats believe someone hired the assailants to attack Petriashvili, but have largely refrained from claiming political motives.
Alasania said he trusts the prime minister’s pledge to make sure the attackers are brought to justice.
The police have not yet provided a public update about their work.
With apparently no swift results from the investigation into this witnessed and possibly CCTV-camera-recorded attack, speculation has flooded in. Some were quick to link the case to politics, both because of Petriashvili’s former position and his current role in the opposition -- albeit for a party not known as a power-broker with strings of enemies.
His Free Democrats Party broke away from Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream coalition after Alasania was removed from office and accused the coalition’s founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, of acting as the government’s grey cardinal.
Beyond politics, however, there is a broader concern about a slide toward rising crime and a police force unable to cope. The largest opposition group, the United National Movement, said that the authorities’ failure to prevent violence is creating a sense of impunity. Police statistics for January alone show a 36-percent increase in homicides and attempted homicides (148 cases) compared to January 2015, and a 25-percent increase in battery (456 cases).
Some media reports, though, put the attack on Petriashvili down to a less politically controversial cause – supposed revenge by an alleged ex-boyfriend of Petriashvili’s now wife, former television host Eka Mshvildadze.
Petriashvili and Mshviladze reportedly married recently.
Following the attack, she demanded that the investigation treat the case as a premeditated murder attempt, rather than as an instance of grievous bodily injury. The police have stated that they will consider re-categorizing the case, if warranted.