On April 5, 2023 the US State Department sanctioned four Georgian judges, accusing them of significant corruption, and banning them and their family members from entering the United States.
“These individuals abused their positions as court chairmen and members of Georgia’s High Council of Justice, undermining the rule of law and the public’s faith in Georgia’s judicial system”, the press release said.
Reporters have previously written stories about the unexplained wealth of two of the sanctioned judges – Levan Murusidze and Mikheil Chinchaladze.
An investigation published last year by OCCRP’s Georgian partner Studio Monitori found that Murusidze failed to disclose assets belonging to his wife in his asset declarations, hiding from the public multiple apartments, expensive jewelry, and designer clothes she had acquired in recent years. The couple’s spending exceeded their declared salaries by far.
In 2018, Studio Monitori also revealed that Mikheil Chinchaladze had failed to declare significant real estate holdings registered in the name of his aunt.
Both Murusidze and Chinchaladze have been among the most influential judges in the country and are believed to have led a powerful group of judges known as “the clan”.
The group has allegedly been blocking reforms required to deepen Georgia’s ties to the European Union. Murusidze and Chinchaladze are associated with a powerful body called the High Council of Justice, the supreme oversight body of the country’s judicial system.
Asked by Mtavari Arkhi, a journalist for a local opposition TV channel, to comment on the sanctions, Murusidze said he hasn’t done anything to deserve them.
“I won’t kill myself if they sanction me. It will be very bad for me personally, but life will go on… Levan Murusidze will take it somehow, but I think it is really unfair,” he said, adding that he hasn’t violated the law.
“If now they won’t let us into the United States of America or the European Union, I will survive, like my grandfather, who has never been there,” he said.
In a recorded statement, the US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly C. Degnan said that the State Department determined, based on credible and corroborated evidence, that these individuals abused their public positions “by engaging in significant corrupt activity”.
“The rule of law requires a legal system where cases are decided fairly and impartially based on facts, evidence and law, not because of a late-night phone call, not because of a bribe, not because of intimidation or other pressure,” she said.
The Chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, criticized the State Department’s move, and accused it of “interfering with an independent judiciary”.
“Zero evidence. No proof. Are they hiding it from us? Is a crime committed and they are hiding it from us? Why are they hiding it from us?” he asked.
“This is not serious. If a crime has been committed, your first interest should be to inform the other party about this crime, or at least tell the public,” he concluded.
The other two sanctioned judges are Chinchaladze’s predecessor, Valery Tsertsvadze, who left the Tbilisi City Court chairman position in 2017 and Irakli Shengelia, who has been serving as the deputy chairman of the Tbilisi City Court since 2011.
Reported by: Marika Dudunia, OCCRP
For latest updates and news follow BLiTZ on Google News, YouTube, Facebook, and also on Twitter.