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4 Feb, 2009 09:43

Was former Georgian PM murdered?

Senior politicians in Georgia are for the first time publicly asking whether the mysterious death of Prime Minsiter Zurab Zhvania in 2005 could have been murder.

The official cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by a gas heater in his apartment. But now the opposition is calling for a more thorough investigation.

According to some Georgians, Zurab Zhvania was the architect behind Georgia’s Rose revolution. But it was Mikhail Saakashvili who went on to become president, with Zurab Zhvania as his prime minister.

In February 2005 Zhvania was found dead, apparently poisoned by gas.

Bezhan Gunava from the Conservative Party of Georgia says: “it was the Georgian democracy that was poisoned”.

“Every day people get killed in Georgia. People are unlawfully detained and other anti-democratic actions are carried out,” Gunava said.

At the time of the death, Zhvania’s family questioned the official version.

“The government is trying to block a real investigation into the case,” Giorgi Zhvania said, brother of the former Prime Minister.

In an interview with the Washington Post in 2006, Georgia’s ex-president, Eduard Shevardnadze, also implied it was murder.

Now some members of the Georgian Parliament members have the same view.

“Authoritarian rule dominates, with only one person who personifies the judicial system, the cabinet and the president – this is nothing but authoritarian rule,” Bezhan Gunava said.

“None of us saw Zhvania’s body being brought to the place where he was found, there are facts and details screaming that Zurab Zhvania’s death was not an accident”.

But who would kill Zurab Zhvania and why?

Aslan Abashidze from the Institutue of International Relations in Moscow says there was a widespread belief that Zhvania would become president.

“But he became the secondary figure, although he was a powerful prime minister. Of course, if he was taken out because of this, it would be unforgivable.”

The state of personal relations between Saakashvili and Zhvania remains unknown. But close allies have turned on the President.

In 2007 Irakli Okruashvili, who held several ministerial positions, claimed the president was corrupt and abused human rights. He also said Zurab Zhvania’s corpse was taken to the apartment where he was found dead along with a friend.

Rumours continue to circle around Saakasvili.

“There are many questions which remain unanswered, and that is enough to assume something happened,” Aslan Abashidze said.

Officials in Georgia are now demanding those answers. Political or not, Zurab Zhvania died four years ago when the country looked to be a young democracy.

Now Georgia’s political instability is more visible, and perhaps the country’s shaky political life will help reveal the truth about its beginnings.

Strange coincidence?

In late May 2005, what looked quite an ordinary domestic crime was committed in the small town of Kvareli in Georgia. Two young men from Tbilisi went to the provincial town to see their former classmate. But the latter turned out to be ‘mad’. He had a gun and fired at his guests, killing one and injuring the other. Finally he shot himself.

This would certainly be considered a common domestic drama if it were not for one fact. The ‘Tbilisi guest’ who died was Levan Samkharauli, the head of Georgia’s forensic medical examination at the Ministry of Justice. In the previous winter he had prepared the death certificate of Zhvania and his friend.

So, the ‘domestic’ murder in Kvareli seemed suspicious to many: it happened the day after the Georgian TV channel ‘202’ showed a documentary called ‘Without a bullet’. The film cast doubt on the official version of Zhvania’s death.

Samkharauli was killed in front of many witnesses. The ‘mad’ classmate fired 20 shots before getting close to the victim and shooting him right in the head. Then he ran home, where police later found him. It’s reported that he shot himself twice (!) – in the heart and in the head. The bullet shells have never been found.