The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia searched a house on May 18th belonging to the brother of Georgia’s judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. The MIA claims to have found a weapon and bullet cartridges in Otar Tsotsoria’s house in Batumi; Tsotsoria denies possession. His sister, Nona Tsotsoria, who is a judge at the ECHR, as well as some opposition parties have linked the house search to Nona Tsotsoria’s professional activities.
The MIA released a statement late on May 18th that Tsotsoria’s lawyer was with them during the search. They said the search of Tsotsoria’s house was based on operative information regarding the illegal purchase and possession of weapons. An investigation will follow regarding the purchase and possession of the weapons.
Otar Tsotsoria made a public statement denying the allegations. He says he had two hunting weapons on his property, but that he does not have information about the other weapon which was found.
Tsotsoria believes the search of his property is connected to his sister’s work: “All this was done against my sister. She was the deputy minister of Adeishvili [the Minister of Justice of Georgia in 2008-2012]. Maybe that’s why. I lawfully own the hunting weapons...I don’t know about the others, from where or how they were found at my place,” Tsotsoria said.
Nona Tsotsoria has presided as a judge at the ECHR over high-profile cases in Georgia, including the Rustavi 2 ownership case, the detention of former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava, the imprisonment of former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, and other cases.
Judge Tsotsoria also made a statement regarding the search of her brother’s house, saying she believes it is connecter to her work: “I have grounds to think that these actions are connected with my work at the European Court of Human Rights,” she said. “I want to announce that this will not influence the implementation of my functions at the court, and I will continue contributing to the strengthening of Georgia’s democracy and human rights.”
Tsotsoria also denies the allegations against her brother, and emphasized that her brother has never had any problems with the law in the past.
Nona Tsotsoria’s term as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights expired; however, since the candidates that were proposed by the Georgian government to replace her were rejected by the ECHR, Tsotoria’s term was extended.
A member of the United National Movement opposition party, Khatia Dekanoidze, says the search of Tsotsoria’s brother’s house raises many questions: “It is obvious that Tsotsoria is an ‘uncomfortable’ judge for the Government of Georgia, as she discusses many cases which don’t comfort [former Prime Minister] Ivanishvili. For example, the Rustavi 2 case, when the decision made by the ECHR suspended the implementation of the Georgian government’s undemocratic step against the TV company,” Dekanoidze said.
Vice Prime Minister and Education Minister Aleksandre Jejelava says the Tsotsorias’ claims that the house search is connected to Judge Tsosoria’s work is a “defense strategy:”
“Every person that violates the law prefers to come up with some sort of defence. And in this case too, this is the defence strategy,” Jejelava said. “We are saying that there is no one above the law, neither the brother of the judge nor the brother of the minister, absolutely no one. I think that if we are dealing with the violation of the law, it is absolutely acceptable [to conduct a search], without bearing in mind whose relative that person is.”