Whenever Georgia has made the news in recent years one name has kept cropping up – that of Davit Kezerashvili, the Defence Minister during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. At that point he was 29, and people were asking how he could have obtained such a high position at such a young age. Now we hear about him because he is on the run from Georgian justice, as a result of the many serious things he did when he occupied such a high position at such a young age.
After Kezerashvili fled Georgia Interpol got involved, at Georgia’s request. He was placed on a Red List, which required the law enforcement authorities of any country he was found in to detain him. Eventually he was found in France, and duly arrested. But even though he was still on this international wanted list, and despite the multitude of charges hanging over him, France refused to extradite him to Georgia.
Now Interpol itself has changed tack. It has recently refused to pursue Kezerashvili further, claiming that the case against him is politically motivated. These were the words Saddam Hussein used at his trial and subsequent execution, those the condemned Nazis used at Nuremberg, those Pol Pot used at his trial – the list goes on.
The implication of Interpol’s new position is that there is no such thing as justice: if you are in power, or have influential friends, you can do whatever you like without being subject to any rule of law. Does Interpol really think this? It wouldn’t exist if it did. Does France really think this? French citizens take great delight in showing visitors the towns and villages sacked by the English during the Hundred Years War, claiming the English still owe them damages.
So why are both France and Interpol acting against their own principles to allow this man to walk free, and tacitly condemn the present Georgian government? Simple. It isn’t only that if Kezerashvili goes a lot of others will go with him. It is that nothing the international community believes in will serve any purpose if little things like justice are allowed to get in the way.
The politics of reality
The list of charges against Kezerashvili is long. He is wanted for embezzlement, misuse of funds, abuse of power, drug and weapons trafficking and miscellaneous petty corruption connected with procurement. All these things undoubtedly took place during his term as Defence Minister, and his Ministry was undoubtedly connected with them. So even if Kezerashvili himself was not responsible, as we must assume given his presumption of innocence, he is protecting those who were by refusing to cooperate with investigators.
He is not the only one of course. Several members of the Saakashvili government, including the former President himself, are also wanted on a multitude of similar charges. Those who remain in Georgia are being brought to book, but all too slowly. When Nino Burjanadze, who was implicated in many of Saakashvili’s crimes before she conveniently defected to the opposition, can say publicly that the new government was installed by external forces simply to whitewash the old, and she can get away with saying it, the public disquiet with the failure to deal with these people is clear.
The crimes the former Saakashvili government members are accused of are not political crimes, such as belonging to a group with banned opinions or insulting the government. They are offences described as criminal by the very Criminal Code of Georgia these people swore to uphold and largely wrote. They are also regarded as criminal offences in any Western democracy, and any nation where Interpol’s writ runs.
It is therefore perfectly reasonable for the present Georgian government to demand that its international partners hand these people over so that they can answer the charges against them and provide evidence. This would give them a golden opportunity to clear their names before the eyes of the world. Then they could start talking about “politically motivated” charges, but not under present circumstances.
But not only Kezerashvili but Saakashvili himself, and all his other wanted henchmen, are no longer being pursued by the same countries who lecture Georgia on what rule of law and democracy are. Apparently these countries have a higher conception of justice, which they think Georgians are not yet able to understand. However they are not saying what that conception is, largely because their own citizens understand it only too well.
Friends by unrighteous Mammon
Kezerashvili’s rise to power in Georgia was fuelled by two things. The first was his drug addiction, for which he was famous even before he went up to university. Like many another spoilt kid he thought her could get away with buying and selling what he was using because his influential friends and customers wouldn’t want their own deeds exposed. After returning from Israeli, where he had to escape so to avoid a prison sentence, one of his new customers became Mikhail Saakashvili, the new President of Georgia; this strategy proved to be inspired.
The second was his dual citizenship of Israel thanks to some Jewish roots. The Jewish state, friendless in its region after it was imposed upon it after World War Two, has been obliged to become one of the most militaristic in the world, and still deals with many European countries in its weapons through various defence agreements. Israel pays for these through exporting its own weapons, including cluster bombs and will continue to do so.
Any new government anywhere represents a potential new market for vital Israeli and Serbian arms sales, particularly as most of them are illegal and need the security of some sort of state protection. Kezerashvili exploited this connection to the full, as a fully paid up member of the Shin Bet intelligence network, and Israeli arms, businesses and “political-military attaches” who had previously shown little interest in Georgia became progressively more visible in Tbilisi during his period in office.
Weapons and drugs are not exclusively Georgian, Israeli, Jordanian or Eastern European concerns (Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia). As we all know, there is a very sophisticated international trade in these commodities which makes some people very rich and powerful.
More powerful, in fact, than the Presidents of Georgia, Israel or France, or the head of Interpol, as the discrepancy between even the number of such deals we can trace and the number of people prosecuted for making them testifies.
As much of this trade is illegal those who run it have to procure influence by underhanded, unaccountable means. This has created two parallel systems of international relations, just as there are two parallel systems of international trade. There is a legal, official one and an illegal, hidden one which the legal one is powerless to combat. It is such connections which got British journalist Farzad Bazoft killed because he refused to report a fake arms deal story planted by notorious conman Rocky Ryan, who was then able to call criminal elements in that trade, get him rubbed out and boast about it to other journalists, without serving a day in jail.
The former Saakashvili government eagerly embraced the opportunity to exploit the illegal system of relations. It reasoned that it was more likely to gain friends that way, and keep itself in power forever, than by playing the legal game, as no one is interested in the many positive things little Georgia has to offer. To a large extent this approach proved successful. By making the country the regional hub of Western dirty tricks they were allowed to get away with anything, until the abuses became too great an embarrassment even to those who had profited the most from them.
Saakashvili and friends are still walking around because of what they know. Not only are they walking around, they have been transplanted to Ukraine so that that country can replace Georgia as the regional dirty deeds hub. The US is even paying the wages of Saakashvili’s staff in Odessa, and probably those of other public officials too, but only those working for Georgians, not Ukrainian public servants.
Interpol is giving Kezerashvili and his friends a free pass because it cannot afford a conflict with the illegal system. It knows it cannot win such a conflict. As Belgium found during the Marc Dutroux child abuse scandal, investigations can be blocked, witnesses intimidated or paid off, journalists jailed on non-existent charges and evidence destroyed by those at the highest levels of government, and there is nothing the law enforcement agencies responsible to those same governments can do about it.
Interpol, as part of the legal system, can never win a conflict with the illegal system. The legal system has standards, there are certain things it cannot and will not do. The illegal system has none, so it can do far more. If Interpol is shown to be powerless by taking it on, every government, every police force, every court – and everyone who has gained a position in society by any means, legal or otherwise, and wishes to defend it – under threat.
Interpol and the international community cannot admit that criminality can and does rule. As the white judge says in the film Mississippi Burning, “no one’s going to destroy everything that’s good here over some nigger.” No one is going to let everything they stand for be destroyed by the likes of Davit Kezerashvili.
It should be in the direct interest of Western law enforcement and intelligence services to understand how weapons and drugs flowed to and from Georgia, and the continued involvement of the Saakashvili government in this process. Links with these networks would provide deeply important information regarding the activities of various terrorist networks and governments of concern, especially now that Jordan, Turkey and Ukraine are so much involved. Disrupting this activity would help bring about stability in the region, and ultimately in those regions weapons are being sent from and used in.
But not when the law enforcement agencies know they can do nothing about it. Then they will fall even further behind the game by suffering a string of defeats at the hands of their adversaries. Police everywhere refuse to pursue cases when they think they have no chance of resolving them successfully, regardless of the merits of the case. Letting this little gang get away with everything is by far the lesser of two evils for anyone who cares about himself.
Of course the institutional racism of the legal international system also plays a part. Kezerashvili and his friends are only Georgians. The international system of illegal relations is run by people in richer countries, who demand greater respect. No one will destroy the international system of illegal relations over either Georgian wrongdoers or the many Georgian victims—much less a government which told the electors it would put these people behind bars.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has explained the removal of Kezerashvili from the Interpol list as the result of “changing methodology”, adding that Viktor Yanukovych has been removed for the same reason. But the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office has stated publicly that it was not allowed to present its evidence to Interpol before this decision was made. It is not giving up its pursuit of Kezerashvili and others, but its hands are now tied.
The Western world, whose professed standards Interpol is supposed to uphold, does not want to admit that the criminals won long ago and the inherent racism of Western countries is being used to ensure that will always be the case. Interpol is right to believe that these are big issues, bigger than anything which has been going on in Georgia. But all this decision does is highlight that wanting the criminality to continue, rather than prosecuting those responsible, is the politically motivated decision.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.