On 20 December, Georgian Prime Minster Giorgi Kvirikashvili called the abduction of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli a "serious failure that should not have happened." He responded to questions from MP Elena Koshtaria, member of the European Georgia Party, who read out an excerpt from Mukhtarli’s testimony.
"This issue is currently being investigated. It is a very difficult issue, I agree with you, and I recognize that it was a very serious failure. It should not have happened. But despite the fact that it was a serious failure, the truth has yet to be established. I think the way we responded – dismissing the heads of the counterintelligence service and the border police – was absolutely adequate. However, I repeat that their guilt has yet to be proven, they simply assumed political responsibility for this incident. The investigation is underway, and we have sent a request for the exchange of information to the Azerbaijani law enforcement. We do not know what the conclusion of the investigation will be, no one can foresee this. Therefore, I do not take Afgan Mukhtarli’s testimony as given facts. I have no right to comment on that, I can only say that it is a problematic issue."
According to the Georgian press, a reporter spoke with Mukhtarli during his trial several days ago.
"We cannot call it a trial, it's a sham. Someone masterminded my abduction, and someone carried it out. Interestingly, not one single camera in Tbilisi was working that day. Pass my greetings on to Georgian Prime Minster - sooner or later, he will have to answer for this. Kvirikashvili and the interior minister jointly planned and committed a crime at the state level," Mukhtarli said.
Givi Targamadze, a former member of the Georgian parliament and one of the leaders of the opposition European Georgia party, had said during a briefing in Tbilisi on 1 June this year that the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli had been organized by Ucha Mamatsashvili, a relative of former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, and masterminded by his business partner, an unnamed influential Azerbaijani businessman.
Targamadze explained that the Azerbaijani businessman hoped to give a gift to his leadership this way. He argued that it was the Georgian special services who abducted Mukhtarli in Tbilisi and transported him to Azerbaijan. He also stressed that both State Security Service Director Vakhtang Gomelauri as well as Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili were aware of the operation.
"According to trustworthy information we have, it all started with Ucha Mamatsashvili's partner from Azerbaijan. He had problems with international justice and faced dismissal from the posts he held. He decided that he could make a gift to his leadership, and asked Mamatsashvili to help him transport the journalist to Azerbaijan."
Targamadze further said:
“Ucha Mamatsashvili, who was interested in keeping his Azerbaijani partner, organized a meeting between a proxy from Azerbaijan and Vakhtang Gomelauri. Gomelauri’s deputy, Soso Gogashvili, attended the meeting as well and was tasked with leading the work. The actual operation was carried out by the director of the special forces unit of the State Security Service, Zura Kharazishvili, and two members of the unit."
Journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who had spent the past few years living in the Georgian capital, disappeared from Tbilisi on 29 May. Later, it was found out that he had been arrested and was in Baku, where he stood accused of illegally crossing the border, smuggling, and resisting the police. The journalist's family believes that he was abducted and secretly brought to Azerbaijan, and that members of the Georgian law-enforcement agencies were involved in his abduction.
Mukhtarli rejects all charges he is accused of. During the 16 December session of his trial, he said that he had been abducted, tortured, and brought to Azerbaijan due to his investigations of businesses owned by President Ilham Aliyev’s family. Domestic and international human rights activists consider him a political prisoner.