Saakashvili a No-Show at Alleged Poisoning Hearing

Published: 09 December 2022

Mikheil Saakashvili GeorgiaGeorgian former President Mikheil Saakashvili is said to have been poisoned. (Photo: Chatham House, Flickr, License)


On Friday, hundreds of supporters of jailed Georgian former president Mikheil Saakashvili rallied in front of the Tbilisi City Court as it held its first hearing on a motion regarding the postponement of his sentence for health reasons.

Saakashvili was too ill to attend the hearing, according to doctors at the clinic where he is being treated for possible poisoning. No decision was reached before the hearing was adjourned until next Wednesday, Dec. 14.

“I think they plan to prolong the process. But how long Mikheil Saakashvili's health will withstand it is the second issue,” Paata Manjgaladze, a member of Georgian Parliament, told TV Mtavari.

Saakashvili’s legal team is asking the court to release him for medical treatment abroad because of concerns that he had been poisoned in prison.

“I am sick, but tomorrow I want to attend the hearing that will decide my life or death,” the ex-president wrote in a handwritten letter published Thursday on his official Facebook page.

Saakashvili was arrested in October of 2021 when he unexpectedly returned to Georgia from self-imposed exile. In 2012, his United National Movement party lost the parliamentary elections and in 2013, after his second and final term as president came to an end, he left Georgia.

Officials of the Georgian Dream party, which has ruled the country ever since, brought criminal charges against him in 2014 alleging he authorized the violent dispersal of an anti-governmental protest in 2007; a raid on Imedi TV by riot police; and confiscation of property owned by the late media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Saakashvili was subsequently granted Ukrainian citizenship after being appointed governor of Odesa in 2015 by then-President Petro Poroshenko. He left that post in November of 2016, saying corrupt Ukrainian officials had stymied his reforms.

In 2018, he was convicted in absentia in Georgia for abuse of power and sentenced to six years in prison. When he returned to Georgia just over a year ago, he was jailed.

In May, the former president was moved from prison to a private medical clinic, suffering from “protein starvation.” The outstanding criminal cases against him have been on hold since then.

On Nov. 28, despite that treatment, Saakashvili was once again unable to attend a hearing because his health condition had worsened, according to his family members and lawyers.

“I'm asking everyone to save my son,” said Giuli Alasania, Saakashvili’s mother, in an appeal for public support. His family has been demanding that the government allow him to go abroad for medical care since April.

A medical commission appointed by the public defender has declared that, since his arrest in October 2021, Saakashvili has lost 42 kg and currently weighs 73.6 kg (162 lbs). He is 6’5” tall.

“The patient's condition is progressively deteriorating,” the commission said. “The rate of weight loss has tripled in recent months, after which irreversible damage to organ systems will begin."

The Georgian non-governmental organization Empathy has conducted a forensic medical examination with the participation of 10 Georgian and six international experts. One of the consultants, US-based toxicologist David Smith, found evidence of mercury and arsenic poisoning in samples of Saakashvili’s hair and nails.

“In my expert opinion, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, many of the pathological symptoms M[ikheil] S[aakashvili] displays are the result of heavy metal poisoning,” concluded Smith. He added that, “based on average hair and nail growth rates,” he was convinced that “these agents were introduced after [his] incarceration.”

Empathy’s news release states that the ex-president has numerous symptoms — including rapid weight loss, muscle atrophy, pain, and abrasions — which require his release to receive adequate treatment.

“The imprisonment of Mikheil Saakashvili, considering his neuropsychological condition, is unacceptable and contradicts international standards on detention,” the press release states. “His psychological and neurological condition on its own, as well as in combination with musculoskeletal and digestive disorders, is incompatible with imprisonment.”

However, Justice Minister Rati Bregadze has expressed doubts about the conclusions of Empathy’s report, blaming Saakashvili for refusing to comply with the prescribed medical treatment.

"I think a doctor should not make political statements,” Bregadze said to reporters. “Saakashvili is not following the course of treatment which has been chosen directly by doctors.”

According to the medical director of the clinic, Zurab Chkhaidze, Saakashvili doesn’t eat the amount of food which he is supposed to.

“It may be due to the disease that he is not able to eat [properly]. He takes food poorly [in] small portions. Of course, it will be better if he eats more full-fledged [meals] and in larger doses. He himself says that he cannot. It may be that he can't or doesn't want to eat food, or it may be related to the underlying diseases he has,” he told the pro-government Imedi TV station.