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What Links the Assassinations of Giorgi Sanaia and Vephkhia Margoshvili?

July 26, 2006

What Links the Assassinations of Giorgi Sanaia and Vephkhia Margoshvili

Giorgi Sanaia, director of the TV-show ‘Ghamis Kurieri’ (‘Night Career’), produced by TV Company ‘Rustavi 2’, was found dead in his flat on the 26th July 2001. The assassination of the journalist was initially connected with the tense criminal situation in the Pankisi Gorge and a videotape of high-ranking officials of both the Interior and Defense Ministries. The version of events, officially denied by the investigation, was confirmed in an exclusive interview to the ‘Human Rights Centre’, by Vephkhia Margoshvili’s relatives. Margoshvili was assassinated on the 17th October 2001. They also speak about an immanent danger. Who was Vephkhia Margoshvili Vephkhia Margoshvili-Chophanashvili (Margoshvili is his mother’s surname), was born in the Akhmeta region in the village of Omalo in 1964. He had two sisters, Dariko and Eliko Chophanashvilis and a brother - Badri Margoshvili-Chophanashvli. During his compulsory Military Service Margoshvili assaulted officers who had earlier beaten a soldier. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Initially he served his term in Russia, in Murmansk Prison, but later he continued his sentence in Rustavi Prison Camp. According to official information, he was detained for stealing jewelry from ‘Pirimze’ in Tbilisi and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. In 1991, Margoshvili together with other detainees escaped from the Geguti Prison Labor Camp. From this point on he was marked as a wanted man. He lived in Groznyy for some time under a false name, whilst fighting against Russia during the Chechen war. In 1998 Margoshvili returned to Georgia, to his native village with his wife Lida Saltaeva.
Why Did Authority Figures in Pankisi Oppose Each Other “Despite his being officially wanted, he lived without any disturbance for three years. When representatives of the international organization the Red Cross were kidnapped, they remembered Vephkhia. Many people called him asking for help. They promised him that President Shevardnadze would pardon him if he helped them to find the hostages. He thought it over…he even found out who had kidnapped them, got in touch with them and offered the terms. Several days later, a man visited him and said the kidnaper was ready to return the hostages without payment, if he would be pardoned together with Vephkhia,” says a relative of Vephkhia Margoshvili who does not want his name to be published in the newspaper [the content of his story has been accurately preserved]. Journalist: Who held representatives of the “Red Cross” hostages? Respondent: Criminal authority figure Shota Chichiashvili did, he demanded two million GEL in exchange for the hostages. As we found out later, Vephkhia was holding long-term negotiations with him. I cannot tell you the details but the agreement was settled. I tell you, Kists (a people from the north Caucasus) have a tradition:  women must not meddle with men’s affairs. - As far as we know, Margoshvili was not pardoned by the President… - Vephkhia was handed a fraudulent pardon document with Shevrdnadze’s [the President’s] signature, but when he showed it to the Akhmeta Police Department, he was told the document was fake and that he had been deceived. I remember he was very insulted, though he did not loudly express his anger. We also know that Chichiashvili demanded a substantial sum in compensation for his deception. But Margoshvili did not pay him anything. After that, MP Peter Tsiskarishvili and others were kidnapped in Pankisi. As far as we know, $300,000USD was taken from Margoshvili’s house too. Margoshvili tried his best to find out who had taken the money and he did; but could do anything to get it back. - Do you know why Tsiskarishili use to go to Pankisi? - Besides Tsiskarishvili, many other high-ranking officials used to go to the gorge. Here drugs were much cheaper than in other places. Every week a car used to pull up at Duisi market where the boiled drug was sold for 10 GEL, although local policemen saw all this as well. Margoshvili Hands Videotape to Sanaia “We do not deny that Margoshvili also used to sell drugs then. Vephkhia was not an angel at all, but high- ranking officials of Interior and Defense Ministries, such as Kakha Targamadze, Kenchadze, Bakuradze and the others were deeply involved in the drugs business, along with other local and regional police officials too. That’s why Margoshvili, although a wanted man, was not arrested. At that time, the Chief of the Akhmeta Police, Gocha Nazghaidze, used to arrive in Omalo himself with other men to pick up the drugs. For a while, young people could take drugs without having to pay, but then they were given drugs on credit. Almost all the Pankisi dwellers turned into drug-addicts, and their business was wide-spread. Later Margoshvili’s relationships with his partners tensed. Both sides tried to settle the matter but in vain, after that Margoshvili was threatened. …Margoshvili began giving interviews to journalists, where he blamed the government for consciously increasing tension in the Pankisi Gorge. He divulged information that his partners did not like at all. He decided to give up drug dealing. He bred cows and he tried to start a parquet factory and employ people in Omalo as well, but they did not let him do it. …Journalists used to arrive in the gorge everyday. I remember a ‘Rustavi 2’ journalist and cameraman arrived in Omalo in July 2001.  A tall, thin young correspondent introduced himself to Margoshvili’s sister in law and two other relatives as Giorgi. Vephkhia took the journalist to the gorge, and then they had a party at his home. Before the party, they watched some videotapes. I know this exactly, because I had to enter the room - Giorgi was asking Vephkhvia, when and where that meeting took place. Margoshvili mainly used to meet officials from the Defense and Interior Ministries in Phichkhovani at a fixed place and he taped all of the meetings using a secret video camera. He had a lot of information. Margoshvili gave Sanaia a copy of one of the videotapes. They watched the tape in the gorge too, although the journalist then took it to Tbilisi. We have heard from Vephkhia’s cousin that they were planning to transmit certain exerts from the videotapes on TV”  - And what was on the videotape? - It showed one of the meetings between high-ranking officials from the Ministries, Margoshvili and drug-dealers, where they spoke about their shares and the transferring of specific amounts of money in detail. It shows how they could not agree on certain questions etc. Vephkhia handed the cassette to MP Elene Tevdoradze upon her arrival in the gorge. She later declared in ‘Ghamis Kurieri’ that she had agreed to show the tape if the General Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation. Sanaia became interested in the tape after that. Being in Pankisi, he met with Chechens who informed him about the details of a drugs-factory, existing in the gorge. They also told him the names of the high-ranking officials who were supporting this business. One of the workers even told him, that although he was well-paid, he would give it up, but he was afraid of being killed. The tape in question only had three copies besides the original, not seven, as it was said. Margoshvili gave one of them to Tevdoradze, the second to Sanania, he gave the third one to his friend in the gorge who still keeps it and the fourth disappeared from Margoshvili’s house in mysterious circumstances. As I have already mentioned, this cassette still exists, and very soon one of its copies will reach one of the TV Companies. Let us see if they highlight this and expose those big wigs, who at that time planned the kidnapping of people together with high-ranking officials in Tbilisi. They used to get money in Pankisi, but blamed only Margoshvili for everything and still hold their high positions in government. …After we heard about Giorgi Sanaia’s assassination, we used to ask Vephkho why the journalist had been killed. He used to refuse to know anything. Significantly, he had become very reserved since the killing. We used to hear from him that he had been chased and was afraid that something would happen to him. He also said, “If something happens to me, someone close to me would have certainly deceived me… Soon after, Vephkhia’s wife Lida Saltaeva was arrested. - Why was Saltaeva arrested? - As far as we know, Lida was leaving for Moscow; her daughter was going to give birth. She took a man named Mamukelashvili’s taxi from Pankisi to Tbilisi. On her way to Tbilisi she periodically dialed Vephkhia, informing him that she was driving peacefully. The connection was then cut off and Margoshvili tried in vain to find out her location. Only on the next day did it become clear that Interior Ministry officials had arrested her. This fact overwhelmed Vephkho. He applied to many people asking them to release her, even high-ranking officials from the Ministry, but he could not do anything. Lida then called Vephkho from prison. We do not know what she told him, as Vephkho did not tell us anything, but it was clear that he then became very cautious. His brother Badri and his cousin Tamazi knew everything best. Badri used to say, Vephkhia’s killing was settled and his assassination was approved by the Deputy Interior Ministry, the killer was paid and he warned us to be careful, even at home. We were very careful, but they made a hole behind the outhouse and planted the bomb in a way that we did not hear anything. We are sure it was performed by someone close to him. The Chechen, who took part in it, is already dead; otherwise we would not forgive him this betrayal. Several are still alive. We will certainly take revenge on them… During Margoshvili’s last years, a refugee from Chechnya, Luiza Khazmatova took shelter in Vephkhia’s brother’s house. When Margoshvili was blown up she was cooking in the kitchen, ten meters away from the scene of the explosion. “It was the 17th of October, a quarter to five p.m. Vephkhia had just returned from the parquet factory. As soon as he went out to the toilet, we heard the terrible sound of the explosion. Everything collapsed around us. Black smoke reached the sky. When I looked out, I saw Vephkhia lying next to the toilet; one side of his body was torn away. He could not breathe, he was saying, look what they had done to him, and demanded that we to leave the place, as he was afraid they had planted something else in the house too and of us being blown up as well. The whole village gathered there. A lot of people came. The explosion was heard even in the neighboring villages and people came from their too. We put the wounded Vephkhia onto the sofa and then took him by car to a Chechen’s hospital, but he died on the way. Despite the fact that the information was spread on the same day, the police did not become interested in the murder”, states Khazmatova. Two days before the explosion, Margoshvili had gone to the mountain, to the farm. His brother Badri said, the explosive might have been planted at that time. “The killer was really someone close to him, as we had so many big hounds and they did not even bark. After the explosion, we found a place with a fire-spot and two little logs under the trees up on the hill, on which they might have sat and operated the remote control on the bomb. Beforehand, Vephkhia’s children had entered the toilet but there had been no explosion”, declare people close to Margoshvili. Shortly after Vephkhia’s funeral, Lida was released from prison, and she left for Groznyy. Margoshili’s brother, Badri and cousin Tamazi were arrested. They were accused of participating in the kidnapping of a person and covering up the crime and were sentenced to five years imprisonment. According to Luiza Khazmatova, Vephkhia kept a ‘hostage’, former police informant Zurab Maisuradze.  “He used to feed him well. He simply demanded the return of what he was owed. Then Maisuradze told him, if he stayed here, nobody would bring him his money, he said he could leave his mother and wife as collateral and he would go, work and return him his money. We kept his mother and wife like family members. They did not want to leave us. They attended Vephkhia’s funeral and mourned over him too. Zurab Maisuradze named Badri and Tamazi as the ones who fed him when he was Margoshvili’s hostage”, Khazmatova told us. Margoshvili’s relatives believe that prisoners Badri Margoshvili and Tamaz Borchashvili will not be released until they have served their full terms. Moreover, they might be killed in Rustavi #1 Prison Camp. “They know everything. That’s why they were arrested. Nobody wants them alive.” Kists, living in the gorge, did not keep it a secret from us that they would take revenge for Margoshvili’s assassination by any means necessary. They do not hide the fact that they will take their revenge in several weeks time.

Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti.