Public Defender Assesses Investigation into Ia Kerzaia’s Death
The Public Defender’s Office has completed the examination of investigative materials relating to the death of Ia Kerzaia and found the same systemic gaps in the case, which were characteristic of many other cases investigated by the Prosecutor's Office.
Although the Prosecutor's Office interviewed all persons linked to the case after the launch of the investigation, it was not possible to obtain crucial evidence or establish the truth in the case due to the delayed launch of the investigation.
Public Defender's representative examined Ia Kerzaya's case on October 8 and 30, 2019. Although the investigation was launched under the article pertaining to abuse of power (Criminal Code, 332), the Public Defender was guided in the course of examining the case materials by the standards of effective investigation established by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the positive aspect of the right to life.
According to the case materials, on November 8, 2018, Lavrenti Kiria filed a complaint with the Ministry of Education against Ia Kerzaia. It should be noted that the investigation has not proved the actual existence of a person with the mentioned name or the address specified by him. On the basis of the complaint, Zugdidi public school No 6 was inspected on 9-15 November 2018, as a result of which, the then Minister of Education Mikheil Batiashvili recommended the school to dismiss Ia Kerzaia. The recommendation was rejected by the school's supervisory board, as they considered that it was possible to eliminate the detected violations in a short period.
Ia Karzaia publicly stated that she was under political pressure as early as November 26-27, 2018. She died of a stroke on December 9, while on December 19, his son Bachana Shengelia appealed to the Prosecutor's Office to launch an investigation.
The case materials show that the investigation was launched only on February 11, 2019, indicating an unjustified delay. Given that the investigation was launched into the case under Article 332, it is absolutely unclear why the investigation was not launched on November 26-27, when Ia Karzaia's public statement had already provided grounds for it.
The examination of the case showed that despite the failure to launch an investigation in time, several individuals were interviewed on December 25-27. The procedural actions were conducted within the framework of informal "inquiry" or "pre-investigation process", which is not recognized by the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia. It is unclear why the investigation was not launched if the Prosecutor’s Office considered it necessary to conduct procedural actions in the case. The Public Defender considers that the informal conduct of the initial phase of the investigation significantly undermines the accountability and transparency of the investigation.
Most importantly, the late investigation made it impossible to establish the truth. The video recording relating to Lavrenti Kiria was requested by the Prosecutor's Office from the Ministry of Education only on March 7. The video had already been deleted by that time, since the Ministry keeps video recordings only for 29 days. The video footage would have been available in case of a timely launch of the investigation on November 26-27.
Consequently, the unjustified delay became the main reason for the unsuccessful investigation. The Prosecutor's Office failed to find out who was behind Lavrenti Kiria’s pseudonym or whether the inspection was part of the pre-devised scheme. It should also be emphasized that even after the investigation was launched on February 11, the video footage was requested only on March 7.
In addition, Ia Kersaia's case clearly showed the varied approach of the Prosecutor's Office in relation to the status of a victim/victim’s legal successor. The Prosecutor's Office refused to grant Bachana Shengelia the status of the victim’s legal successor, though he was twice granted access to the case materials, which, according to procedural law, is the victim's prerogative.
The Public Defender once again points to the inconsistent practice of the Prosecutor's Office, which could be noticed with regard to other recent cases too. The Public Defender calls upon the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to make the grounds for granting the above-mentioned status uniform and foreseeable. If this is not possible under the current legislative framework, relevant legislative changes should be carried out by the Parliament of Georgia.
The Public Defender is aware that Bachana Shengelia has recently filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights. The Public Defender will closely watch the consideration of the complaint.