Georgian Judges Sanctioned by US State Department

Georgian Judges Sanctioned by US State Department

Malkhaz Nakashidze, Jean Monnet Chair, Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University

On April 5, 2003, the US State Department imposed sanctions on 4 Georgian judges – Mikheil Chinchaladze, Levan Murusidze, Irakli Shengelia and Valerian Tsertsvadze. This decision was made by US authorities to deny visas under Rule 7031(c) “due to their involvement in significant corrupt activity.” Following this decision, these judges and their family members will no longer be able to enter the United States. According to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the named judges “abused their positions as court presidents and members of the Supreme Council of Justice, thereby harming the rule of law and public trust in the Georgian judicial system. The US State Department says[1]  it has credible information that judges have abused public office by participating in corrupt deals.The department said it undermined the judicial and public process by offering or pressuring judges to make decisions in favor of their political allies and manipulating judicial appointments for personal gain.

This decision was severely criticized by the Georgian authorities. Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of Georgian Dream, was one of the first to respond to this decision. He noted that there are many attempts of politicized interference in justice, “corruption processes” are behind imposing sanctions on Georgian judges, terms are used, including clan, a new term was introduced – corporatism, etc. This is an attempt to stigmatize, they are trying to brand the judicial system with Soviet methods, it is a political interest to intervene in the independence of the court and to encroach on the independence of the court.” He also said that in the West they don’t see us as a state, they don’t recognize our statehood, and we, of course, must protect our state interests to the end, we must show everyone that Georgia is a state.” The US imposed sanctions on judges based on “zero evidence” and also spoke about the judicial system during the time of the “National Movement” government. He also noted that the management team is discussing how it will react to the sanctioning of Georgian judges.

Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili met the judges at the Supreme Court after the USA sanctioned the judges. The judges themselves publicly requested a meeting with the Prime Minister. After the meeting in the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister expressed his full support to the sanctioned judges. One of the sanctioned judges, Levan Murusidze, responded to the decision of the ASC and noted that the US Embassy wants to take over the judiciary. Murusidze’s answer was to repeat the positions of the Georgian leadership that the USA interferes with the independence of the Georgian judicial system.

After sanctioning the judges, the opposition decided to create an investigative commission in the parliament. Although the ruling party claimed that the US government sanctioned the judges without any evidence, it categorically opposed the creation of an investigative commission in the parliament. On April 18, at the plenary session, the issue of creating an investigative commission could not be voted on due to the lack of a quorum.

According to the Constitution of Georgia, the parliamentary minority can create the investigative commission, and the decision of the majority is not necessary. In order to prevent the creation of the commission, the parliamentary majority decided not to register for the vote, which is an unusual fact in the history of Georgian representative democracy. Irakli Kobakhidze himself, who during the constitutional reforms of 2017-2018 was proud of the new version of the constitution, how parliamentary democracy and minority rights were strengthened, now said that “in the interests of the independence of the court, the majority would not undergo registration, which is an act of political solidarity towards judges”.[2]

Due to the lack of quorum, the voting on the issue of the creation of the investigative commission could not take place again at the plenary session on April 19, after the deputies of the ruling party failed to register for voting again. Finally, the ruling party pushed the creation of an investigative commission in the parliament.

Judicial independence is a key issue in Georgia’s democratic development. Judicial reform is an important prerequisite for Georgia to be granted the EU candidate status and is one of the main issues in the 12 recommendations of the European Commission. No one knows what the effect of the investigative commission would be and what the results would be in the created case, although one thing can be said, it would promote transparency and many issues would become public, which scared the government and the judges themselves.

It has been confirmed by more than one research and report that no matter how difficult the situation is in the judicial system of Georgia, it is the responsibility of the current government. The government announced the so-called Despite the judicial waves, he did not implement real reform, appointing corrupt, unqualified and dubious judges to the court for life, thereby delaying the possibility of positive changes in the system for several decades. The government’s reaction is a part of populist politics, when they, like the government of the Russian Federation, claim that the West interferes with the powers of the sovereign state of Georgia to all criticisms and recommendations. The Prime Minister’s visit to the Supreme Court and public support for the sanctioned judges is precisely the interference in the judicial system and the government’s recognition of the existence of the judicial clan. The USA and the European Union have been helping Georgia in the development of state institutions, including the judicial system, for ten years. It is important that the public, professionals oppose this populist propaganda, which the government implements through its controlled media.

April 28, 2023 – Batumi, Georgia