'Fatal shot came from within car': Georgian security chief suspended

Click to follow
The Independent Online
First Edition

Shevardnadze guard suspended pending probe in US dplomat death

MOSCOW (Agencies) - Eldar Gogoladze, who was in charge of the bodyguards of President for the head of chief of Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, 's body guards, Eldar Gogoladze, has been suspended pending an inquiry into the killing on Sunday of a US diplomat near Tbilisi, the capital of the republic, Interfax agency said.

said Wednesday.

The chief of Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze's body guards, Eldar Gogoladze, has been suspended pending a probe into the killing Sunday of a US diplomat in Tbilisi, Interfax said Wednesday.

Mr Gogoladze was in a jeep with Fred Woodruff, the regional-affairs officer in the political section of the US embassy in Tbilisi, when the latter was shot once in the head and killed.

Interfax gave no details on the investigation into the killing.

Sources close to Georgian forensic experts involved in the probe told AFP Tuesday that said preliminary indications showed the shot that killed Woodruff was fired from within the vehicle.

A Georgian Interior Ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity had said earlier that the two men were accompanied in the vehicle by two women. The same official said Mr Gogoladze was inebriated at the time of the incident late on Sunday and added that he was 'known for his excesses' when drunk.

Mr Gogoladze was present on Tuesday during ceremonies at Tbilisi airport in which the CIA director, James Woolsey, arrived to retrieve Woodruff's body for repatriation to the US.

As head of security for Mr Shevardnadze, Mr Gogoladze works for the Ministry of Information and Intelligence. A ministry official said he was suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. Woodruff has been identified in news reports as a veteran CIA operative. On Tuesday, CIA Director James Woolsey Jr. flew to Georgia's capital to bring his body home. He was shot in the head by an unknown assailant while driving with Gogoladze and two Georgian women along a crime-plagued stretch of road about 25 kilometers 15 miles from Tbilisi. , the capital. US and Georgian officials said that a single shot was fired as the vehicle approached a checkpoint.

Mr Gogoladze was later criticised for driving through the checkpoint after Woodruff was shot. 'Most probably he was trying to take the wounded man to a hospital as quickly as possible.

'But if he had stopped and informed our checkpoints, the murderer could have been caught on the spot,' an Interior Ministry spokesman, Valerian Gogolashvili, said. on Tuesday.

Georgian officials have said that Woodruff might have been a victim of common crime, which is growing amid a general air of lawlessness in Georgia. According to the Interior Ministry, the murder rate for the first half of 1993 was nearly twice that of the US. There also was speculation that police fired on his vehicle because it failed to stop at several checkpoints.

US officials have been vague about what Woodruff, whom they describe as a diplomat, was doing in Georgia. They said he had been in Tbilisi since June and was to have returned home to Washington in a few days.

Mr Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, is considered an American ally in the volatile Caucasus region and Americans have reportedly been training his bodyguards.

A Shevardnadze adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Americans had also been training a Georgian anti-terrorist squad. Georgia has been torn by ethnic violence and civil unrest since it broke from the Soviet Union in April 1991 and Mr Shevardnadze faces threats on all sides. He recently warned that the government was in danger of falling.