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Georgia: Criminal conviction of aviation agency’s former chairman breached human rights law

A decision by Georgia’s authorities to prosecute a former chairman of the country’s aviation agency breached human rights law, Strasbourg judges have ruled.

In the case Tchankotadze v. Georgia (application no. 15256/05), they held that that Georgia was to pay the applicant Zurab Tchankotadze 20,000 euros (EUR) in respect of nonpecuniary damage and EUR 15,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

This followed the European Court of Human Rights unanimous ruling, announced earlier today, that in the complaint against Georgia, there had been:

a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights,

and

a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial).

The case concerned the pre-trial detention of the former the chairperson of the Civil Aviation Agency (CAA) of Georgia and his criminal conviction of abuse of power.

Tchankotadze was the chairperson of the Civil Aviation Agency of Georgia (CAA) between March 2002 and March 2004, when he resigned. In March 2004 criminal proceedings were brought against him on charges of repeated abuse of power.

In particular, he was accused of having entered into civil contracts in his capacity as chairperson of the CAA with three civil aviation companies, which undertook to pay the CAA on a monthly basis a “fee for services rendered in relation to the regulation of activities”, and of having issued an order, in November 2003, which had allowed the CAA to charge several companies the same fee.

According to the investigator, Tchankotadze had in this way circumvented the legal effects of a judgment of the Constitutional Court of 10 January 2003 which had declared unconstitutional the obligation on airline companies to pay an “annual regulation fee for transport activities” to the CAA.

Tchankotadze was arrested on 16 March 2004 and a district court ordered his detention pending investigation and trial for three months. His appeal against the detention order was dismissed.

In June 2004, his detention was extended until 16 September 2004. Tchankotadze remained in detention after that date, and in February 2005 he complained that he had ben unlawfully detained since September 2004. Without replying to his complaint, the competent court decided, on 16 March 2005, to uphold the measure, in particular on the basis of the “nature of the charges.”

In August 2005 the trial court convicted Mr Tchankotadze of two of the three episodes of abuse of power of which he had been charged but acquitted him with respect to the CAA collecting a fee from eight of the aviation companies concerned. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and banned from holding public office for two years.

The European court observed that the Georgian authorities had prosecuted Tchankotadze for his failure to abide by a judgment of the Constitutional Court of January 2003, which had allegedly banned the CAA from charging any fees to civil aviation companies.

However, the court noted in particular that, having regard to the reasoning of the January 2003 judgment, it could not be concluded that the Constitutional Court had entirely forbidden the CAA from entering into service agreements with civil aviation companies.

The court therefore found it difficult to understand that the trial court, when convicting Tchankotadze, had not given any meaningful answer to his defence argument that he had merely followed the Constitutional Court’s indication to enter into such contractual relationships.

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