BHHRG interviewed Sulkhan Molashvili in the Deputy-Governor’s office in the hospital wing of Prison No. 5 (formerly No1) c. 5.00 - 6.45 pm, 29th July, 2005.
The facts surrounding the trial of Sulkhan Molashvili are a perfect illustration of the ‘black hole’ that is Georgia’s legal and penitentiary system today. Only the tenacity and perseverance of Mr. Molashvili’s lawyers and the work of one local NGO, “Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights”, have brought the abuses into the open. When BHHRG’s representatives asked to see Mr. Molashvili while visiting Prison No. 1. in April 2005 they were told that “he didn’t want to see them”. The following chronology contains facts generally agreed by all parties, Mr. Molashvili’s lawyers’ account of events leading up to his trial and Mr. Molashvili’s own version of events described to BHHRG during an interview conducted on 29th July, 2005 in the prison hospital. The Group wishes to thank the trial judge who granted permission for the interview and the prison authorities who vacated their offices and who did not impose restraints or a time limit on the meeting.
Molashvili, a trained lawyer, was appointed president of the Chamber of Control in 2000 for a 5-year term. The chamber was tasked with auditing government spending. Molashvili thinks there were two reasons for his arrest: Firstly, Mikheil Saakashvili had been Minister of Justice during the period when the Chamber of Control conducted its audit of the ministry. Many violations and maladministration of funds were revealed while Saakashvili was minister, including expensive foreign trips. Friends and journalists had been taken on these trips at public expense. Molashvili called this “A criminal waste of money”. His second problem concerned the activities of Nina Burjanadze’s father, Anzor Burjanadze, known in Georgia as the ‘bread czar’. “We checked his company - it had received state credits, including a credit from the Ministry of Finance. These credits were supposed to be used to feed the people”. A number of different credits were involved – the largest was US$9 m.; the final amount came to US$27 m.. When Saakashvili came to power his new government cancelled Burjanadze père’s obligation to repay the sums owed.
These controversial audits were prepared in 2001-02 and sent to the Prosecutor-General because the Control Chamber has no right to prosecute – it only conducts audits. Saakashvili was still Minister of Justice. Later Molashvili led an inspection of the town hall (Sakrebulo) of Tbilisi when Saakashvili was mayor (2002-3). There were irregularities in the city’s budget, including money spent on party flags etc. Because of these inquiries, Molashvili incurred the personal enmity of Saakashvili. In his annual audit to the Georgian Parliament he had reported Burjundadze’s father’s failure to repay the credits. Each year these people had to listen to his report in Parliament. Molashvili says that he spoke to the US ambassador, Richard Miles a year before the “Rose Revolution.” Miles said that Saakashvili was “a crazy guy” however, a year after the Revolution, Miles refused to see him although they had enjoyed “warm relations” in the past. Parliament approved this audit.
Inevitably, there were scores to settle after the ‘Rose Revolution’ when Saakashvili and Burjanadze took over the reins of government. Public denunciations of Molashvili started soon afterwards, and, on 4th January 2004, he resigned.
Four months later, on 23rd April, Molashvili was arrested on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement after walking into the procurator’s office to give himself up. The prosecution alleges that he took bribes from companies which he audited favourably to lower their tax burden. He was held in the Ministry of the Interior prison for a day before being moved to Prison No. 5. Due to a variety of ailments he was taken to the prison hospital, however, on 2nd June, 2004 he was put in the ordinary cells by “men in masks who came to the prison hospital and took me back to the main prison, on the third floor reserved for hardened criminals, recidivists” where he was kept for a month.
On 2nd July 2004, he was visited by human rights activist, Nana Kakabadze who had been informed on the ‘grape vine’ that Molashvili had been tortured. Molashvili revealed this to her for the first time, claiming that he had been mistreated in prison No. 7 on his arrest. Using her mobile phone, Mrs. Kakabadze photographed scars on Mr. Molashvili’s back that were commensurate with cigarette burns as well as cuts to the feet and bruising to the ankles. Molashvili told BHHRG that he thinks he recognised the voice of one of the men who tortured him but since the person was masked he could not see them and so cannot name him for certain. He claimed that he failed to publicize these facts earlier as he hoped that by keeping quiet he would be allowed to see his family. Although an independent medical examination corroborated the torture accusations, the authorities blamed the doctors for causing his injuries.
Molashvili told BHHRG that on the first night of his arrest he was pressured “to sign a ‘confession’ alleging that that his audits of Saakashvili and Anzor Burjanadze had “been ordered by Shevardnadze to attack the opposition.” Maybe Molashvili would have been released - and Shevardnadze put inside if he had agreed to sign. For a time, in the months following the revolution, it looked as though Shevardnadze might be arrested.
Perhaps because of Mrs. Kakabadze’s visit Molashvili was punished and returned to the basement cells in Prison No. 7. His lawyers, Ioseb Baratashvili and Shalva Shavgulidze, told BHHRG that “the stench in these cellar cells was intolerable after being there for half an hour”. The cell was tiny and only contained an iron bed and a lavatory which didn’t function – it had no flush and there was no water tap. At the height of summer, Molashvili was kept for two weeks in that cell, without daylight and with poor ventilation. He remained until the Council of Europe’s co-rapporteur for Georgia, Matyas Eőrsi, visited him and publicly stated: “I’m shocked by the conditions in which the detainee has been kept. This is a serious violation of human rights ..No human being however serious the charges against him might be, may be kept in such conditions ..Unlawful acts are unacceptable, especially if those acts amount to torture”. After that, Molashvili was moved back to the hospital in prison No. 5 where he remains – his trial commenced on 28th July, 2005.
Mr. Molashvili is convinced that without the Council of Europe’s intervention he would have been kept in the punishment cell longer. He has also endured one and a half years of a different kind of torture. During this time, he has only been allowed two visits from his family which only happened after the CoE intervened. However, his three children are not allowed to visit him together as the authorities say he has “too many children”. He is told to choose which child he wants to see! The authorities now view Eőrsi as an ally of Molashvili and: “they have become more aggressive towards the Council of Europe.”
Molashvili told BHHRG that the staff in the prison hospital behave “properly”. However, no food is provided by the authorities. As was the case in 1996, BHHRG saw relatives delivering provisions for prisoners at the entrance to the building. They also saw food packages stored in a stair well in the hospital bloc - the coolest but hardly cleanest place. Molashvili said that packages of food brought by family members are routinely crushed and damaged on inspection. Prisoners without families are fed by the other inmates. Drugs and medicines also have to be provided by families. Molashvili’s family pays for his medicines: Imovan, Serdoxin and the sleeping pill, Xanax.
During this period, Molashvili’s lawyers have made numerous attempts to have him released on bail. Their problems have been compounded by the fact that the trial has bounced back and forth between the local Tbilisi courts and the Supreme Court causing confusion and delays. Mr. Molashvili has no previous criminal record and is unlikely to abscond as he has a young family in Tbilisi. Also, as the lawyers point out, he was aware that he might be charged months before his actual arrest. Molashvili told BHHRG: “A few days after the revolution took place, the Prosecutor-General criticised me at a televised press conference”. Molashvili called his own press conference and said that he was answerable to the law and not afraid. In the intervening months, he did not flee neither are there any allegations that he interfered with witnesses
He also handed himself over voluntarily to the authorities. His family even gathered funds to provide a surety to guarantee his compliance with bail conditions. In modern, Western jurisdictions and under case law of the European Court of Human Rights it is recommended that white collar criminals be granted their freedom in the pre-trial period. All bail applications, to date, have been turned down.
On 10th June, many well-known figures in Georgian public life, including writers, musicians, sportsmen and MPs, appealed to the president to show clemency and release Molashvili on bail. Saakashvili turned down the request. At a meeting held on 11th July with Supreme Court judges, he claimed that the signatories of the letter were championing Molashvili because “someone invited you for a drink ..No way, we won’t buy that …Either these people (indictees like Molashvili) will pay fully for the harm they have done, or we will come after them till the end”. On 2nd July, on Imedi TV he called the petition’s signatories “shameless people” who had been “paid”.
In fact, Saakashvili has regularly gone on TV to pronounce Molashvili and other suspects ‘guilty’, thus prejudicing their chances of a fair trial. He also read out a Human Rights Watch report on TV saying HRW is “the organization with the highest authority and it praises me for my protection of human rights”! The Procurator General has also opined. Worst of all, on 1st November 2004, the judge hearing the Molashvili case, Bejan Khimishiashvili, gave an interview to the “202” TV company about the matters connected with the trial, including the bail application.
 Eőrsi’s remarks and some other details concerning Mr. Molashvili’s pre-trial detention are taken from the statement of facts in his appeal to the ECHR.