Salome Zurabishvili: “Pardoning will be possible when the court process is finally over.”

Verdict: FactCheck concludes that Salome Zurabishvili’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.

Resume: It is true that Salome Zurabishvili is authorised to grant pardon to Mikheil Saakashvili for those cases where he was found guilty by all three instances of the court. However, the President has no power to alter the factual situation and release Mr Saakashvili.

Three cases against Mikheil Saakashvili are still pending in court. Therefore, even if the President uses her power to grant pardon to Mr Saakashvili, it will be still impossible to free him if detention is decided as a preventive measure for any of those three cases.

Analysis

On 21 November 2022, the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, spoke about pardoning Mikheil Saakashvili on air on BBC’s Hard Talk programme. The journalist highlighted the state of Mikheil Saakashvili’s health and asked President Zurabishvili in this context: “You have the power as president to pardon him, why don’t you?”

Salome Zurabishvili replies: “I do not have that power. I don’t have the power because, for one very simple reason, sentencing is not finished. He’s still being judged. And that’s the law in Georgia that pardon can intervene only when everything is finished.”

In addition, the President stated that pardoning Mikheil Saakashvili will be an instrument for more polarisation and, therefore, she was not going to user her power to pardon.

FactCheck verified Salome Zurabishvili’s statement.

Granting pardon belongs to the exclusive scope of the competence of the President of Georgia. The aim of this power in a democratic state can theoretically be avoiding political crisis in line with the best interests of the state, rectifying the mistake of the judiciary, etc.

According to Article 52 of the Constitution of Georgia, the President of Georgia has power to pardon convicts. The act of clemency may reduce the convict from serving remainder of his sentence or reduce his sentence or change into milder form of punishment.

Recently, the issue of pardoning the former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been hotly debated. The opposition parties call on Salome Zurabishvili to make the right decision vis-à-vis Mr Saakashvili and claim this is one of the necessary steps that Georgia needs to make for EU membership. At the same time, ruling party members vehemently oppose this demand and believe that the President’s using such a discretionary power can be considered as interference with the course of justice.

Salome Zurabishvili herself has talked multiple times about granting pardon to Mikheil Saakashvili. It is clearly discernible from her position that she “does not want an ex-president to suffer irremediable consequences.” In addition, she argues that “the only instrument to address Mr Saakashvili’s health issues is within the court’s hands.” In regard to her discretionary power, as mentioned earlier, President Zurabishvili thinks that she does not have right to pardon Mr Saakashvili because such an action will only be possible when the court process is finally over according to Georgian legislation.

It is clear in the Constitution of Georgia that the President of Georgia’s power can be applied to convicts. According to the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, a convicted person is a person against whom a court has passed a judgment of conviction. Mikheil Saakashvili was found guilty (therefore, he is a convict) by courts of three instances on the Sandro Girgvliani and the Valeri Gelashvili cases. However, he has also been charged (therefore, he is indicted) in other three cases in addition to these. One case is about the mass crackdown of the rally during 7 November 2007, raiding TV Imedi and unlawfully acquiring property owned by Arkadi Patarkatsishvili. The second case is embezzlement of GEL 8,837,461 from the state – the so called “suitcases affair” and the third case is about his trespassing Georgia’s state border.

Given the aforementioned circumstances, President Zurabishvili can use her power to pardon Mikheil Saakashvili in two cases. However, since he was indicted in three other cases, Georgian legislation is very clear that she cannot use her constitutional power in these cases. Therefore, if President Zurabishvili grants pardon to Mikheil Saakashvili in two cases, this will be no guarantee of his release from prison because detention as a preventive measure may be applied to any of those pending cases.

It is reported that none of the preventive measures have been issued for Mikheil Saakashvili on those cases still pending in court. However, if detention is selected as a preventive measure in any ongoing case, it will be still impossible to free Mikheil Saakashvili despite granting pardon. Therefore, the spirit of Salome Zurabishvili’s answer to the journalist’s question that she has no power to cut risks associated with the state of Mikheil Saakashvili’s health is well-founded. Of note is that detention as a preventive measure was ruled for Mr Saakashvili for the 7 November case, although it became meaningless and the court revoked it after he was arrested and ended up in prison on other legal grounds.

Given all of the aforementioned, Salome Zurabishvili’s statement is accurate, albeit in need of additional explanation. In particular, the President lacks the power to change the factual situation and release Mikheil Saakashvili until the end of the court processes. Nevertheless, this does not deprive the President of the possibility to grant him pardon for those two cases where the ex-president was found guilty. However, President Zurabishvili also unambiguously clarified that she is not going to pardon Mr Saakashvili. She believes that pardoning him will be an instrument for more polarisation and, therefore, she will not use her power to pardon.

Therefore, the main idea of Salome Zurabishvili’s statement that she does not have the power to end the criminal cases against the former President in light of his health is true. The President also explained that she would not pardon the former President even if she had such a power. Therefore, given the fact that the main idea of the statement is accurate but needs additional clarification, FactCheck gave the verdict MOSTLY TRUE to this statement.

Editor’s Note:

After the publication of this article and as a result of interaction with a reader, FactCheck altered the verdict of Salome Zurabishvili’s statement. In particular, the statement was assessed as TRUE in the original version of the article. This verdict was changed in the updated version and her statement was given the verdict of MOSTLY TRUE. In addition, all changes made to the article are shown in boldface.


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