Very few people in Georgia have ever believed the official version of the death of former Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. The first version that he had been killed toxic fumes is now universally rejected. Undaunted, the Saakashvili government came out with a revised version – that he had been killed by a faulty Iranian-made gas heater in his flat (had to incriminate Iran too at the time).
This story was not believed either, but was further within the bounds of theoretical possibility so was stuck to. Now however a dump of photos has demonstrated that this official version bears absolutely no relation to reality.
On 19th March pictures of the bodies of the former Georgian PM (and member of the Rose Revolution Troika along with Saakashvili and Nino Budjanadze) and his friend Raul Yusupov were released on the internet. These contradict assertions in the official report that the only injury on either body was a small mark on Zhvania’s lip.
It has long been alleged, even by insiders such as former Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was later jailed, beaten and forced to retract for saying it, that the Prime Minister was killed in the presence of Saakashvili himself. It has also long been alleged that FBI special agent Bryan Paarmann, who was sent to investigate the death, covered up the evidence in cahoots with Saakashvili, as the latter was still seen as a US intelligence asset at the time.
The pictures released show several injuries on both bodies, which cannot have been made by a faulty gas heater. It is up to the reader, and the people of Georgia, to decide whether an FBI investigator could have missed what is in plain sight in these pictures, failed to ask any questions about it or received explanations so convincing that he did not believe these marks were actually injuries.
What is Happening Now
Two people have now been arrested in connection with the photos. They are the former expertise of the National Forensics Bureau and Zhvania’s personal bodyguard. Both are accused of neglect of their official duties, one for not spotting the injuries seen in the photos and the other for leaving Zhvania unguarded without informing his superiors on the dreadful night of February 3, 2005
But still such criminal charges imply no judgment on how Zhvania actually died. When those questions are asked, the arrested men will have a clear choice: cop for the relatively mild charge or be implicated in much more serious ones. They can avoid the latter by telling all what they know. Where the fingers will point when they do is rather obvious, given the discrepancy between official version and reality, and who all stood to gain by lying.
Saakashvili must have known that one day the vultures would gather. He stated during a live broadcast on Imedi TV last year, after the investigation had been opened, that he was following it closely. Not however out of concern for himself, but because Zhvania was his friend.
“I do not know what Zhvania’s family members are thinking, but the [ongoing] investigation into his death is of no less importance for me. Some try to adopt the term “murder”. Zurab Zhvania’s death was an accident, and it’s good that after two or three days the FBI representatives came and put everything in its place.”
What Saakashvili did not say however is why he should be so concerned about an investigation into a matter he thinks is cut and dried. If the investigation draws a different conclusion, can he not just refute that by giving incontrovertible evidence of his own?
Some years ago British Prime Minister John Major was accused of fabricating a story that when he was a teenager he had seen the Douglas Fairbanks film “The Flame and the Arrow” several times at his local cinema. It was said that such an old film would hardly have been playing at his local cinema at that time, and the story was held up as evidence of his untrustworthiness.
After much research, Major’s office produced cinema listings which showed that this film was indeed being shown where he said it was at the time. He still couldn’t prove he had been to see it, but the substance of the charge against him was clearly untrue, so it vanished there and then.
“The Flame and the Arrow Scandal” which Major’s opponents had hoped to concoct ceased to exist. He is not remembered for this now. The supposed scandal of where Barack Obama was born also seems to have vanished since he produced his birth certificate.
But mention Zhvania’s name to anyone in Georgia, and the first thing they do is speculate whether Saakashvili murdered him. Misha has had years to bury this story, but hasn’t been able to do so. He has a right to be concerned about the investigation, especially now that the authoritieis are calling him for question about this case and many other murders—a request he is refusing—calling it a political ploy by Putin and his enemies.
FBI Investigator and “His Credentials”
One of the factors that helped Saakashvili avoid hard questions so far is that the FBI agent who first investigated Zhvania’s death, Bryan Paarmann, is not very well known in Georgia. This is the man who was quoted by the Caucasian Knot in 2005 as saying, “[thus far] … we see no evidence to consider that certain forces were involved in Zhvania’s death. We have no reasons to dispute the conclusions drawn by our Georgian colleagues.”
Other official Americans, such as former Ambassador John Tefft or State Department envoy Matthew Bryza, have track records, and their comments are interpreted within the matrix of what is known about them. Paarmann is less known, so has been presented as an unbiased agent, whose conclusions could only be mistaken due to reasonable scientific error rather than a geopolitical agenda.
But to some Paarmann does have a sordid track record. Jeffrey K. Silverman, an American journalist who has lived in Georgia for over 20 years, encountered Paarmann in the Smugglers Bar in Tbilisi, which is now out of business, after being grabbed in the middle of the street and pushed into a car in broad daylight, then beaten up by members of the Office of Counterintelligence of the Georgian State Security Services.
Silverman had by then discovered that Paarmann had ordered all these things, as well as the destruction of evidence in these two “cold case” murders, either on his own initiative or that of his superiors, such as US Ambassador of the time Richard Miles.
Paarmann verbally admitted to having had Silverman picked up off the street to see what he was doing. About the articles, published in Azerbaijan Today, a regional magazine, the distinguished agent had this to say: “I have read your f-king articles (sic) and I know more about your life than you know yourself.”
He then added, “If you were a threat I would have you put on a flight back to the US in chains, but I guess it is your Constitutional right to write such articles.” Seemingly realising that he had admitted that the content of the articles was true, Paarmann then tried to change the direction of the conversation by introducing his soon-to-be-wife, who he described as his girlfriend.
Silverman sarcastically responded, after looking her over, “Этонетолькотвояподруга, она подругадлявсех – “not only your girlfriend but everybody’s girlfriend!” Obviously such a comment would be offensive to many who understood the Russian, and one of these was Paarmann’s drunken FBI partner, bodyguard.
This well built man took a swing at Silverman, chipping his teeth and splashing beer in his face, and got a beer bottle broken over his own head in return, ending up on the floor in a pool of blood.
Such ten second bar fights happen every evening somewhere in any major city. The US Embassy was so concerned about this seemingly trivial incident that it demanded that the Georgian National Security Council, no less, intervene. Nothing was done, presumably out of fear of further exposure.
Of course, investigators can do what they like in their private lives. Whether such behaviour demonstrates that they have the capacity to make rational decisions is another matter. It is also somewhat unusual for FBI agents to have people who write things they don’t like beaten up by another country’s security forces.
This is the man the US chose to investigate the murder of Zhvania, in an insult to forensic scientists everywhere. We are to trust his professional scientific judgment? He also claimed on Georgia national TV through many press conferences that gas poisoning is very common in the United States and the conclusions of the Georgian forensic experts were accurate.
Following his investigation of Zhvania’s murder Bryan Paarmann’s three year contract in Georgia was cut short. Next year he was back in the US in a VERY HIGH position at FBI HQ, the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Such positions are the reward for meritorious service. He is married to the woman he introduced in the bar.
One of his former girlfriends became of Silverman’s key sources for his subsequent investigation of the apparent high level cover up and destruction of forensic evidence – and subsequent sworn testimony was provided to Georgian investigators last year, now largely debunked by experts.
There are two major investigations Paarmann has been known to be involved with. The first was the one into an alleged grenade attack on George W. Bush, which he declared to be real whilst it was exposed long ago as a staged performance and has thus disappeared from commentary. The other is Zhvania and his friend’s patent torture and murder.
So Who Is To Blame?
There is such a divergence between the official version of Zhvania’s death, as subscribed to by Saakashvili and Paarmann, and the evidence now available that it is too great a stretch of credibility to believe the former. It is also beyond the bounds of possibility that those most intimately involved in this case, Saakashvili and Paarmann, have not always know that the story is hogwash and colluded to hide the truth, as have the powers that be in the US, who they both ultimately worked for.
Zurab Zhvania was politically expendable. He wasn’t the most popular man, those who didn’t like Saakashvili would not unite around his martyred corpse. If he got in the way of people’s plans, including interfering in Georgia being used as a weapons depot, so be it. If people vote against your favoured sons and scupper those plans they too are expendable. If whole countries, like Ukraine, make decisions which scupper your plans they too are expendable, and there is nothing we can do about it.
There are always less obvious ways to kill a journalist or Prime Minister, so there was a reason why they are killed in a least direct manner. Reading about and investigating this killing makes any journalist want to keep a low profile.
Everyone has always known what really happened to Zhvania and no investigation will be able to avoid coming to the same conclusion. But when that happens, Saakashvili and Paarmann will say to us what Jack Nicholson famously said to his interrogator, “You can’t handle the truth”.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.