Koka Katsitadze: The Reform was justified; we can confidently say that the Special Investigation Service has more capacity to ensure effective investigation

The Special Investigation Service received1,267 case reports and launched investigations into 246 cases in 6 months. In the same period, the Quality Monitoring and Analytics Department of the Service was created and the establishment of the Official Crime Prevention Council was planned.

More specifically, what kind of activities did the agency carry out, what kind of innovations were introduced during the reporting period, and what kind of plans does the Special Investigation Service have to strengthen its effectiveness and institutional independence. About the above-mentioned issues Koka Katsitadze, head of the Special Investigation Service was interviewed by "Interpress News".

- The Special Investigation Service has been operating as an independent body for 6 months - first of all, please, evaluate the reform, after establishment of two independent services from the State Inspector office, was it justified or not, and tell us more, what innovations were implemented during this time to strengthen the effectiveness of the investigation service?

-The reform was really justified. The special investigation service was given the opportunity to carry out its most important function, which is related to the investigation of the facts of ill-treatment, and in parallel with this, it does not have other, incompatible, additional functions.

The midterm (06 months) report was presented to the society, media, rights defenders, diplomatic corps, international organizations and the representatives of the parliament of Georgia. I highlight some important activities that we managed to implement in these 6 months. The guideline defining the investigative policy is particularly noteworthy, which was developed according to the recommendation of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Every citizen who submits an application/report for the investigation has the opportunity to have access to the criminal case materials from the first day, which is unprecedented for an investigation body. Such case has never appeared. It was the first time we have started implementing this protocol, which 100 percent allows us to ensure a transparent investigation and gives the citizen and his lawyer full access to the criminal case materials, including effectively controlling the investigation process, expressing opinions and requesting the conduction of some investigation actions.

It was also important to develop a new organizational structure. When we established, the service had three offices in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi. This made it impossible to conduct an effective investigation. Due to this problem, there were cases when the investigator was late in arriving at the scene of the accident, which resulted in the loss of important evidence, so we took these steps from the very first day of our institutional reform and three new units were added to the service - the Kakheti Regional Unit, the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti and the Tbilisi Second Unit. At the same time, with the help of the government of Georgia two very important offices were handed to us in Telavi and Zugdidi. After that, we can boldly say that the service has more capacity to ensure effective investigation.

It is also worth mentioning, that we managed to create the Investigation Quality Monitoring and Analytics Department of the Service in these six months, which was established within the framework of the 2022 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. This department already exists. Based on the open competition it was staffed with qualified personnel. The Department should supervise prompt , effective and professional investigation of criminal cases; monitor the protocols of investigative actions and other procedural documents; provide an analysis of the practice of the European Court of Human Rights.

It is important to cooperate with other various institutions to conduct effective investigation activities - what are you implementing in this direction - with which institutions and how do you cooperate?

- In our action strategy, we have outlined a very important project that will be implemented in the near future. This is the establishment of the Official Crime Prevention Council. From the first day, we have been saying that crime prevention is necessary not only in relation to street crimes but also in relation to the official crimes. We are not going to lock the door and be in an ambush position. Although we investigate crimes committed by various law enforcement officers, it is very important to cooperate with these agencies and communicate about any problems identified during the investigation. The best way to do this is to have the Prevention Council, where the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Security Service and the Ministry of Justice will be involved. They will be represented at the high-level and the Special Investigation Service will have the opportunity to discuss all the identified problems and offer recommendations for solving them.

- How many employees from the former State Inspector Service expressed their desire to continue working in the Special Investigation Service and how many of their requests were approved?

-100 persons were fully employed at the State Inspector Service. When the service split into two, some of them chose to continue working in the Personal Data Protection Service, and some of them wrote a statement to continue working in the Special Investigation Service. 67 applications were received in my name. I satisfied all of them, and each of them has been appointed to equal positions. They not only remain in their positions, but their conditions improved over the 6 months. Approximately 20 official positions received salary increases, received health insurance, as well as special ranks, and in such important positions as the head of regional Units, Tbilisi Operative Unit, Tbilisi Investigation Unit, local staff were promoted through the competition.

-What about the statistics, how many reports were received during the last 6 months, what exactly were these crimes and how many of them were related to the obstructing of journalism? How many cases were prosecuted?

- In spite of the significantly increased workload and fewer human resources, during the reporting period, the service received 1,267 case reports and launched investigations into 246 cases; as a result of the investigation, out of the 34 persons subjected to the criminal prosecution and 16 of them were public servants and 18 were citizens. There were cases of ill-treatment, as well as cases of obstruction of journalism and the violation of privacy. Importantly, there is a positive trend in the high rate of investigations of ill-treatment cases compared to the previous years. We hope that this trend will be preserved. I will also highlit the high rate of investigation of the crimes committed against journalists – The investigation was launched in 9 cases and 6 were exposed. Official statements are disseminated on cases of high public interest, and the public is proactively informed about ongoing cases.

- The Special Investigation Service is investigating the possible inhumane treatment of Mikheil Saakashvili. At what stage is the investigation?

- The investigation on this case among others continues and the public knows that his lawyers are actively involved in the case investigation process. They have access not only to the case materials, but we also appointed several examinations on their initiative, which are currently underway. For example, they demanded to conduct a forensic medical examination commission on how adequately, correctly and competently was carried out his treatment in the 12th and 18th penitentiary institutions and at the military hospital of Gori. We have met this request and these examinations have been scheduled. Of course, the results of the examination will be very important. The answers to the separate examinations ordered by the investigation have already arrived, but it is also very important to receive the results of the remaining examinations, which will significantly help us to answer the questions facing the investigation.

It is also important that not only the lawyers but their invited both Georgian and foreign experts and doctors had the opportunity to get involved and have access to the case materials. According to the results of the examination, which are known at this stage, nobody's guilt has been revealed, and the other actual circumstances of the case are being studied. In order to create a complete picture, it is very important for us to receive the answers to the prescribed examinations.

-- Finally, as far as I know, the Special Investigative Service developed several proposals within the framework of the European Commission's recommendation to strengthen the investigation body and its institutional independence, which are already submitted to the Parliament. Tell us what these proposals exactly include and in general, what are your plans for further strengthening the work of the service?

- It is very important for us to implement the recommendations of the European Commission in respect of further strengthening the Special Investigation Service and ensuring its institutional independence. Our service participates in the working group created in the Parliament of Georgia, which reviews the implementation of the 12-point plan of the European Commission We were given the opportunity to present the proposals for the means of effectively implementing the recommendations of the European Commission. It is important for us that the subordinate articles of the investigation service should be determined from the beginning. Immediately after the launch of this service, 40 new articles were added to the investigation jurisdiction, which significantly increased the workload of the service. Therefore, we believe that the Service has to redefine and reestablish the investigative jurisdiction of the institution and subordinate only the crimes compatible with the goals, challenges and resources of the institution. First of all, Other alleged crimes (destruction of evidence, illegal arrest/detention, exceeding official powers, forgery by an official), which are committed by the representatives of law enforcement bodies, officers, or persons equal to them and are detected while investigating the criminal cases falling under the investigative jurisdiction should become subordinated to the Service. The mentioned amendments will further strengthen and ensure the independence of the Service, which rather than sending the criminal case to the other investigative agency, will be given the opportunity to investigate the above-mentioned crimes committed by the representatives of law enforcement bodies and detected while investigating the fact of ill-treatment. The amendments will also ensure the effectiveness of the overall investigative process.

Also, there is another component, which I think is important - The investigation of the facts of violations of the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms established by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) should become subordinate to the Service. This initiative will give the state opportunity to successfully fulfill its positive obligation to conduct an effective and independent investigation in order to prevent and promptly investigate violent crimes committed by state representatives.

Also, we have various proposals related to the financial strengthening and ensuring political neutrality of the investigation service. We have great future plans. We are thinking of establishing a victims' rights protection Unit. As a result of the cooperation with the Legal Aid Bureau, we want to give the opportunity to the victims to hire a free lawyer fully covered by the state budget. We want to develop a procedure to mark off qualifications of investigation and equip the General Inspection with the investigation authority/mandate. There are other important projects, which we will actively try to implement with the help of donor organizations.

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