Georgia reopens inquiry into death of PM

Wed, Nov 28, 2012, 00:00

Georgian prosecutors have reopened an inquiry into the mysterious death in 2005 of then prime minister Zurab Zhvania, raising the stakes in a bitter power struggle between the country’s president and its new premier.

Since billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili became prime minister when his coalition ousted the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili in elections last month, more than 10 former senior officials have been arrested in what Mr Saakashvili and his allies call a political purge against them.

The European Union, United States and Nato have all urged Mr Ivanishvili not to use the legal system to settle political scores, and have encouraged the premier and president to work together, but investigations into Mr Saakashvili’s supporters continue to pile up.

While no one has yet been questioned in the new inquiry into the death of Mr Zhvania, the case has the potential to re-open deep wounds in Georgian society.

Mr Zhvania was a close ally of Mr Saakashvili in the 2003 Rose Revolution that brought a new generation of pro-western politicians to power in Georgia.

He died with a political colleague in a Tbilisi apartment in February 2005, from what an official report said was gas poisoning caused by fumes from a faulty heater.

Many Georgians suspected foul play, however, and speculated that Mr Zhvania could have been targeted by the Russian secret services or political rivals at home.

Some people even claimed that Mr Saakashvili’s associates might have done away with a popular potential challenger.

No evidence was produced to support that claim, but relatives of Mr Zhvania repeatedly accused Mr Saakashvili and former senior officials of being responsible for his death or for covering up what really happened to him.

Giorgi Zhvania, the late premier’s brother, is now a parliamentary deputy for Mr Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.