NGOs Call Upon the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Finance to Adhere to the Criminal Procedure Rules

On June 27, the media highlighted how the Ministry of Finance’s Investigation Department restrained the freedom of action of City Hall and City Council officials and took them into the Ministry for interrogations. These officials claim that they had been suddenly stopped while driving by people in civilian clothes.  They were told that they were being detained; they were then handcuffed, had their mobile phones taken away, and were transported to the police station.

The spokesperson of the Finance Ministry’s Investigation Department confirmed to the media that City Hall and City Council officials had really been really been taken in for questioning on a specific criminal case. The Finance Ministry\'s Investigative Department spokesperson also said: “the Investigation Department is entitled to announce to someone in personam that he/she is summoned for questioning. The above action can be done in several legal forms, of which the investigative department chose this particular one.\"

Under Article149, part 3, of the Criminal Procedure Code, witnesses can be detained in order to ensure their participation in the investigation activities, only if they refuse to appear voluntarily for questioning. Pursuant to Article 149, part 5, of the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, a pertinent decision was supposed to have taken place. In order to proceed with the transferal - an action which involves a certain extent of coercion and restriction of a person\'s freedom of action - the Criminal Procedure Code sets as a necessary precondition, the witness’ refusal to voluntarily participate in investigative activities.

The Investigation Department of the Finance Ministry failed, both in its comments to the media and in its special statement posted on its official website, to say whether the City Hall and City Council officials had been given a warning of a voluntary appearance before the investigative authorities. This fact raises questions about the legitimacy of the action carried out by the Ministry of Finance’s Investigation Department.

We would like to remind the Investigation Department that the use of coercion and restriction of a person’s freedom of action should only be used as a last resort according to the Criminal Procedure Code. This Code explicitly prohibits forcibly bringing someone in for questioning as a coercive measure if that person has not yet been given the opportunity to appear before the investigative authorities by his/her own will. Situations when people do not know what a particular investigative authority wants from them and why they are subjected to coercion, also known as Ad hoc procedural actions, are a violation of the Criminal Procedure Code requirements. They also call into question the likelihood of an objective and impartial inquiry being conducted into the case, as well as whether the right to a fair trial will be enjoyed at a later date.

Meanwhile, it still remains unclear what the legitimate purpose was for detaining the City Hall and City Council officials, since according to them neither had witness testimonies been taken from them in due manner nor had arrest protocol been adhered to. To further complicate this ‘misunderstanding’, despite all of the detained were released in the morning, several of them got re-arrested in the evening. Although the investigative authorities released several statements regarding the issue, they were still unable to provide convincing and legally justified answers to questions raised by these events.

The actions of the Finance Ministry’s Investigation Department contain signs of possible criminal offence; this casts a shadow on the credibility of the ongoing investigation. We therefore call on all law enforcement agencies to restrain from violating the Criminal Procedure Code requirements in the future and furthermore to conduct an impartial and effective investigation of these facts.

Georgian Young Lawyers\' Association

International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy

Transparency International Georgia