On 3 November, Georgia's outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili pardoned the former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia who was found guilty of using excessive force to suppress a prison riot in 2006, when Akhalaia served as the head of penitentiary department.
Bacho Akhalaia, who also served as the Defense Minister in the former government, was arrested on 7 November 2012. He was charged with multiple charges in four separate cases. The court found him not guilty in two of them – inhumane treatment of soldiers and also inhumane treatment of special forces officers, but found guilty in the prison riot case and sent him to almost four years in prison.
Despite of presidential pardon, Akhalaia will remain in pre-trial detention pending trial on the fourth case which is related to the killing of Sandro Girgvliani. Akhalaia is accused of abusing official power by interfering in the activities of the detention facilities to ensure that people convicted for the murder of Sandro Girgvliani served their sentence in "especially privileged" conditions.
In a statement released in connection with the pardon of Akhalaia, Mikheil Saakashvili explained the reason behind this decision. President Saakashvili said that had the court found Akhalaia guilty in the two previous cases he would not have defended and consequently, pardoned Akhalaia. However, as regards the verdict which was delivered "based on testimonies of thieves-in-law and under a huge political pressure," Saakashvili said that it is his "duty to the history, fairness and justice," to pardon Akhalaia and not to allow "a precedent of a person implementing the state policy against mafia being tried by thieves-in-law."
Mikheil Saakashvili said that in 2006 his government fought against crime bosses, or so-called "thieves-in-law," to eradicate their influence over the penitentiary system and Bacho Akhalaia, who then served as the head of the penitentiary department, was in the forefront of this struggle. Consequently, a guilty verdict against Akhalaia in the prison riot case "is not only unjustified from the legal point of view, but, one can say without exaggeration, a shameful one."
"One cannot call but shameful the fact when thieves-in-law and prosecutors jointly try the fighter against thieves-in-law. Such decisions will inevitably lead to dire consequences in the form of impunity and strengthening of organized crime; unfortunately, it will be the society that will have to pay the price for these consequences in future," Saakashvili said.
"I am far from thinking that Bacho has not made serious mistake. It cannot be ruled out either that he could have even violated law without our knowledge, but after so many probes all the charges brought by prosecutors before the court turned out to be groundless and [prison] 'riot' case is simply shameful, dangerous and anti-state," Saakashvili said in his written statement.