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Government Agent Faces Danger of Assassination

10.10.2006
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Nana Chalatashvili, the judge in Lagodekhi District Court, has sentenced Leila Kusrashvili, accused of counterfeiting money, to a term of five years and six months imprisonment.  Ms. Kusrashvili defended herself by claiming that the manager of the Lagodekhi branch of People’s Bank and his wife gave her counterfeit money.  The accused spoke of the disorder and corruption at the customs office [in Lagodekhi] but that she is afraid of being killed for testifying about this fact.

“I expected a plea bargain and I maintained my silence because of [this], but I am not going to hold my silence anymore now that I do not intend to plead guilty.  On March 18, 2006, I was at the [Lagodekhi] customs office together with Suliko Lolashvili because I had no right to travel to Belkani and Mr. Lolashvili was helping me bring fuel from [Azerbaijan] to there so that I could sell it [on the Georgian side].  Everybody knew [about my activities], but nobody ever questioned me.  How could they question me?  That day Lolashvili was about to go through the Lagodekhi customs to Azerbaijan to buy fuel and bring it back to Georgia.  We needed 120 lari for car insurance, and none of us had this money on hand.  That’s why I went to the Lagodekhi branch of People’s Bank, located in the vicinity of the customs office, and I asked the clerks, Ms. Ketino and Ms. Lia, to lend me 120 lari.  I had met Ms. Lia, the wife of the bank manager, at customs. I used to stand in their office when it was cold and I was waiting for fuel.  Ms. Ketino lent me 20 lari, but Ms. Lia refused saying she could not take money from the bank and called her husband.  I listened to her on phone: ‘Dato, there is a 100 lari note at home near the television.  Please bring it to me.’  Soon the money arrived by car.  She gave me the 100 lari note, explaining to me that the money had been brought by her husband.  She warned me not to say anything about it.  She also asked me to repay the debt as soon as possible.  However, on this particular night, we did not have to purchase car insurance.

The next day, on March 19, I returned home to Zakatala Street #1 in Lagodekhi.  On my way home, I bought two phone cards worth 10 lari each from Leri Mghebrishvili.  I gave him the 100 lari note, and he gave me 80 lari in return.

On March 21, Leri Mghebrishvili came to my house and said that the 100 lari note I had given to him was counterfeit.  He warned me that unless I returned [100 lari to him], he would sue me. I denied his accusation because I knew the note had been given by the bank clerk, and therefore it could not be counterfeit.  However, I did not tell Mr. Mghebrishvili [who had given me the note].  I called Ms. Lia as soon as Mr. Mghebrishvili had left, and I told her that the note she had given me was counterfeit and that unless I returned the money to Mr. Mghebrishvili, he would sue me.  Ms. Lia told me to come to the Lagodekhi customs next day and arrange everything there.  I could not manage to meet her [the next day] since I was arrested.

Ms. Kusrashvili said, “I never mentioned the name of Ms. Lia [to the authorities] because she had promised to assist me in my release.  She told me she would help arrange a plea bargain and pay for my release me, which she never did. …I would like to say much more about the disorder and corruption at the [Lagodekhi] customs.  However I am afraid of being killed.  [The authorities] need people like me but they could also get rid of me quite easily,”

Mr. Mghebrishvili said that after having initially sold the phone cards to Ms. Lia, he searched for Ms. Lia for two days because she had introduced herself by a different name, Mzia, and claimed that she worked at a pharmacy. “Despite the misleading information, I still was able to locate her, and I demanded that she repay the money.  However, she refused, so I reported her to the police.”

The judge thinks that Ms. Leila Kusrashvili wanted to deceive the victim and, therefore, introduced herself by a different name to prevent him from knowing her identity. These facts proved that Ms. Kusrashvili knew the money she was giving to Mr. Mghebrishvili was counterfeit, but that she now denies this fact to avoid her punishment.

Ms. Kusrashvili’s lawyer, Nato Chikhradze, questioned those witnesses, who Ms. Kusrashvili had taken money from.  However, the judge did not admit this testimony for “being unreasonable.”  The court ultimately found Ms. Kusrashvili guilty and sentenced her to five years and six months in prison.

We tried to interview the bank clerks who Ms. Kusrashvili mentioned at her court hearing so as to learn additional information about Ms. Kusrashvili[’s truthfulness].

Ms. Ketiono Tsukhishvili, a teller at the service counter at the People’s Bank in Lagodekhi, which opened in 2005 in the vicinity of the customs house, confirmed having lent 20 lari to Ms. Kusrashvili.  Another teller, Ms. Lia Nozadze, who is a wife of the Bank manager, denied both her acquaintance with Ms. Kusrashvili and having lent 100 lari to her in phone interview.  Mr. Gogoladze, the bank’s manager refused to comment. “I will not say anything.  Why should I comment on this nonsense some stupid person has said?  I have had no dealings with her.  Go ask her,” said Mr. Gogoladze, who also suggested to us that it was better not to publish this information.

The fact that Ms. Kusrashvili was a government agent was confirmed by people at the customs office.  However, they did not want their names published for obvious reasons.

“Ms. Leila Kusrashvili worked for several [government] agencies.  Her car used to cross the border without any difficulties.  She could not travel to Azerbaijan because of having annoyed many people there.  She used to sit in the office of Givi Skhiladze, the chief of the customs office for hours, as well as in the Bank with Lia Nozadze,” said one interviewee.

Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti

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