Georgia, a former Soviet republic that shares much with Ukraine, has its own corruption scandal.
It doesn’t involve a former US vice president, his family or the sale of energy assets. But it does involve a judicial investigation — in this case, a fake inquiry and conviction by a Georgian court of an enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Iranian regime exalts in showing off its long-arm ability to reach its critics. Most recently, an Iranian assassin brazenly gunned down a cyber activist, Massood Molavi, in the streets of Istanbul in front of surveillance cameras.
Just one month earlier, the regime boasted of capturing the Paris-based publisher of a popular opposition news site, AmadNews.
On Wednesday, the Georgian court of appeals will hear an unusual case involving a defector from Iranian intelligence who has been living as a political refugee in Germany since 2002.
The defector had damning information, indeed. As I related in my 2005 book, “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran,” he warned US intelligence officers in July 2001 of impending terror attacks by Iran and al Qaeda against the World Trade Center and Washington, DC.
I discovered him two years later and introduced him to attorneys representing victims of the 9/11 attacks who vetted his information and found multiple other witnesses to corroborate the main points, a process I assisted. This, in turn, led a US district court to award the families of 9/11 victims over $10 billion in damages against the government of Iran.
For several years after that verdict came in, Iranian officials tried to convince the defector, Ali Reza Soleimane-pak (aka “Hamid Reza Zakeri”), to recant his testimony in the 9/11 case.
They offered him money. They offered him “absolution” and a return to his privileged status in Iran. When he refused the inducements, they arrested his 59-year old brother of conspiring with him to commit espionage and let him know that his actions would determine the brother’s fate.
In September 2017, Soleimane-pak went to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, hoping to smuggle his brother out of Iran. Almost immediately upon his arrival, he received a visit from the Iranian ambassador to Georgia, Seyed Javad Qavam Shahidi, a known intelligence officer.
Shahidi made him a final offer: Recant his testimony in the 9/11 case and the regime would pay him $5 million, give him a Georgian passport and free his brother.
Once again, Soleimane-pak refused.
On Jan. 17, 2018, Shahidi wrote to the Georgian ministry of foreign affairs, warning that Soleimane-pak was planning to murder two Iranians in Tbilisi. The foreign ministry transmitted the “tip” to the Georgian state security department, which was run by then-Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia.
But court records show that the alleged conspiracy actually started one week after Gakharia’s office was solicited by the Iranian embassy and was conducted by an Iranian government intelligence operative wearing a wire for Gakharia’s service.
Soleimane-pak was arrested with great fanfare by police and counter-intelligence officers on Feb. 9, 2018, and thrown in jail, where he has remained ever since.
Gakharia, who was in charge of mounting the case against Soleimane-pak, was forced to resign as interior minister in July. Today, he serves as Georgia’s prime minister and is a trial interlocutor with the United States.
This timeline shows pretty clearly that the alleged crime Soleimane-pak committed was concocted out of whole cloth by the Iranian regime, working in tandem with individuals inside the security services of the government of Georgia, with the goal of framing Soleimane-pak and burying him in a Tbilisi jail.
After seven months in solitary confinement, Soleimane-pak learned that his brother had been murdered in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. His official death certificate, which the family obtained, states that he was executed because of his “collaboration with his brother, Alireza Soleimane-pak, who is accused of espionage against the system and the country of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
US taxpayers have spent over $1.4 billion in support of Georgia’s economy, including development programs aimed at “strengthening the rule of law and judicial independence, supporting the introduction of jury trials,” according to a State Department fact sheet. But Soleimane-pak never received a jury trial. Indeed, the prosecution’s case was so riddled with factual errors, misstatements and questionable procedural maneuvers that any reasonable court in any country upholding the rule of law would have tossed it out.
Georgia aspires to join the European Union and to partner with the United States against terrorism and money laundering. In 2014, the US Department of the Treasury identified a massive Iranian money-laundering ring operating in Georgia and praised Georgian authorities for their cooperation.
But a year after the apparent Georgian government clampdown, “the list of Iranians active in Georgia is a who’s who of the Iranian sanctions-evasion cottage industry,” writes Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Now would be a great time for the president of the United States to urge his Georgian counterpart, President Salome Zourabichvili, to “do the right thing” and end this outrageous travesty of justice and free Alireza Soleimane-pak.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran,” and an investigative partner in the Fleming Timmerman Law Group PLLC, a Washington, DC, law firm that assists families of 9/11 victims collect on their judgments against Iran.