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Meet Zviad ‘Khareba’ Kharazishvili, Georgia’s Alleged Minister for State Violence

“He’s emotionless, unblinking, a special kind of animal. When financial sanctions finally drop, Khareba needs to be one of the first people targeted”

Zviad Kharazishvili, Director of the Department of Special Tasks at the Georgian Interior Ministry. Photo: Mercury Strategic Services
Zviad Kharazishvili, Director of the Department of Special Tasks at the Georgian Interior Ministry. Photo: Mercury Strategic Services

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Sitting in his apartment in uptown Tbilisi, with a small white lapdog, Givi Targamadze cuts a gentle figure among Georgian intelligence circles.

A key leader of the country’s Rose Revolution in 2003, the former Defence and Security Committee Chairman was nevertheless present for other pro-democracy uprisings in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and in 2012 was accused of plotting to overthrow Russian President Vladimir Putin – a charge he denies. In 2016, he also survived an attempt on his life when his car was bombed just days ahead of hotly contested parliamentary elections won by the current ruling party, Georgian Dream. 

Georgia’s government has in recent months launched a mounting violent crackdown against opponents of a draconian new law on ‘foreign influence’ that was passed on 28 May. Critics say the distinctly Russian-style package of restrictions targeted at independent media and civil society have paved the way for the South Caucasian country’s anti-Western government to openly pursue closer ties with the Kremlin, and torching the EU-accession hopes of more than 90% of Georgians.

The US has already announced travel bans for “a few dozen” as-yet-unnamed state officials for “derailing Georgia’s European future” contrary to “the Georgian constitution and the wishes of its people,” with a package of concrete financial sanctions expected to follow.

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Since massive protests against the ‘Russian Law’ first broke out almost two months ago, dozens of opposition figures have been beaten and hospitalised at rallies and outside their homes, with hundreds more receiving menacing anonymous phone calls, and even death threats, on a near-daily basis. Amid this ongoing campaign of state terror, there’s one man that concerns Targamadze more than almost anyone else. 

“Zviad Kharazishvili has been a key figure in these violent endeavours for quite some time. He’s the guy who handles the excesses, he has a green light to go beyond, to bypass any laws,” Targamadze claims.

He’s emotionless, unblinking, a special kind of animal. When financial sanctions finally drop, ‘Khareba’ needs to be one of the first people targeted

Givi Targamadze on Zviad Kharazishvili

Over the past few weeks, Byline Times has spoken to several of Kharazishvili’s former colleagues to piece together a profile of the man who has all but publicly admitted responsibility for the scourge of violence presently unfolding in Georgia. Accosted outside parliament over his role in the attacks, Kharazishvili recently told journalists he has a “list of targets” his team are gradually working through.

Activist David Katsarava ,left, and opposition politician Levan Khabeishvili, right, were both victims of brutal attacks allegedly carried out on Kharazishvili’s orders. Photo: Mtvari TV, Zurab Tchiaberishvili

“A lot worse is coming to Khabeishvili,” he added, in reference to opposition United National Movement party chair Levan Khabeishvili, who last week resigned citing the lingering effects of the beating he endured at the end of April. Neither Zviad Kharazishvili nor the Georgian Ministry of the Interior, where Kharazishvili currently serves as Director of the Department of Special Tasks, responded to email requests for comment.


Who is Zviad Kharazishvili

Born 20 March 1975, in Kashuri, central Georgia, Kharazishvili got his start working as a member of the State Protection Service (SPS) under the post-Soviet government of President Eduard Shevardnadze in the mid-1990s.

As the country slowly worked its way out of the civil and economic turmoil that had followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, guarding government officials and buildings was not well paid. So, Kharazishvili is understood to have set up a side business selling fuel with fellow SPS official Vakhtang Gomelauri – a relationship that would appear to have served him well in the years to come. 

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By the time of the Rose Revolution in 2003, which saw Shevardnadze’s government deposed by Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM Party, Kharazishvili had progressed to become a mid-level officer in one of the units under the Department of Special tasks within the Interior Ministry.

According to a former associate of Kharazishvili, who spoke out on condition of anonymity, he had also by then adopted the name by which he would become better known – ‘Khareba’, after the 1987 Soviet film Khareba and Gogia. The movie lionises the titular Georgian heroes as Robin Hood figures fighting injustice against the poor.

“He was pretty susceptible to delusions of grandeur,” the source told Byline Times. “He would also talk endlessly about money, his houses and swimming pools, boasting about his treatment of women. You didn’t have to spend long with him to see what a little man he really was.”

Kharazishvili’s first real moment in the sun came in 2009 when Targamadze says he was promoted to division leader – following a mutiny within the Georgian military – and participated in an operation that saw one of the principal suspects in the uprising, Gia Krialishvili, killed by security forces. According to a third Georgian former security official, who withheld his name saying he feared reprisals, the shooting took place after the operation went awry, and Kharazishvili fired the fatal shot.

“I knew he was from the ministry, but it was in 2009 he really made a name for himself,” the source told Byline Times. “At the time what he did was considered quite brave.

Now it’s clear he’s really just a sadist, someone who’s making good money from these beatings, and who seems to think he’s become one of the most important people in the country

A source on Zviad Kharazishvili

While the first anonymous source was unable to say for sure whether Kharazishvili was indeed the individual responsible for Krialishvili’s death, they confirmed he was nevertheless “deeply involved” in the operation against the mutineers, and that he became renowned “for being the most inhumane, for treating [suspects] the worst.”

UNM accused Russian intelligence of orchestrating the attempted 2009 uprising, while others have since maintained it was an organic response to Saakashvili’s perceived mishandling of Georgia’s disastrous five-day war with Russia in 2008.


The Georgian Dream that Became a Nightmare for Georgians

Though his party had pursued an initially promising raft of democratic reforms, Saakashvili’s administration had also faltered to become increasingly marred by allegations of corruption and human rights abuses, and it was these failures that in the aftermath of the conflict eventually saw them ousted at the 2012 polls by Georgian Dream.

The current ruling party had been founded earlier that year by billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Moscow during the privatisation frenzy of the 1990s. As his government’s éminence grise, Ivanishvili is widely credited as the driving force behind Georgia’s now accelerating slide away from its historic Western partners amid Putin’s war in Ukraine. He’s cited the motives for his party’s ‘foreign influence’ law as the shadow machinations of a mysterious and conspiratorial “global party of war” (likened by one Georgian Dream official to the nefarious “Freemasons” of Illuminati fame), who he believes have already seen “de facto” Western sanctions imposed against his vast offshore assets for his longstanding ties to powerful Russian interests.

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the created by him the Georgian Dream party, pictured in April 2024. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy
Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the created by him the Georgian Dream party, pictured in April 2024. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy

When Ivanishvili’s party assumed office in 2012, several officials from units within the Interior Ministry’s Department of Special Tasks soon found themselves jailed for operations carried out under UNM against criminal and politically-subversive networks in Georgia.

But according to Targmadze, and the two anonymous sources, Kharazishvili was not pursued by the incoming government because of his longstanding ties to Gomelauri, who had left intelligence work in 2003 to become a personal bodyguard to Ivanishvili. For them, it was therefore little surprise that when Gomelauri returned to office as chief of Georgia’s State Security Service (SUSI) in 2015, he brought in Kharazishvili to head up one of the agency’s SWAT units. 

Kharazishvili’s time at SUSI, however, was to prove less illustrious than his first stint with the Interior Ministry. The most notable of his alleged operations being the Isani Flat Siege of 2017, which saw an initially straightforward sting against four Chechen Islamist extremists escalate into a 20 hour stand-off that ended with three of the suspects dead, one counter-terrorist officer killed, and four more wounded.

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For several weeks, Tbilisi has been rocked by violent crackdowns on protesters opposed to a Kremlin-style bill targeting journalists and civil society. Today it passed into law

Though it isn’t entirely clear what went wrong on the day, the assignment was eventually completed not by Kharazishvili’s team, but by a US-trained tactical force known as the Shavnabada, brought in at the last minute to salvage the mission.

Despite the operation’s initial failures, Kharazishvili is understood to have been subsequently promoted to take charge of the more elite unit, in which capacity Targamadze says he oversaw part of the police response to Tbilisi’s notorious ‘Gavrilov Night’ riots. 

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Those protests erupted in June 2019, driven by pro-European members of the public angered by Georgian Dream having invited a Russian Duma representative, Sergi Gavrilov, to speak in parliament on the ‘Orthodox brotherhood’ of the Russian and Georgian people. Targamadze says it was Kharazishvili who gave the order for security forces to begin firing on the crowds with rubber bullets, injuring more than 240 and blinding at least two people, though the other security officials who spoke with Byline Times were unable to corroborate this beyond confirming Kharazishvili was indeed head of the Shavnabada at that time. 

Just a few months later, in September 2019, Gomelauri was appointed Interior Minister, bringing with him Kharazishvili who in turn assumed his current role as director of the ministry’s Department of Special Tasks.


A Security Company Embroiled in Controversy

According to Kharazishvili’s latest financial declarations as a public official, he personally owns approximately 13,000 square metres of land just south of the occupation line with South Ossetia, a Georgian breakaway territory under Moscow’s de-facto control since the 2008 war, as well as an apartment and 1,000 square metre plot in Tbilisi’s Gldani district. Georgian company registry documents also indicate Kharazishvili controls 50% of a private security firm, Sarangi Ltd, with the other half held by Zviad Chonkolidze who, like Gomelauri, formerly served as a personal bodyguard to Ivanishvili. 

All three former officials interviewed for this story accuse the intelligence chief of using Sarangi Ltd to coordinate the ongoing attacks against opposition voices in Tbilisi.

“We know there are about 80 people, always in black clothes with no mandatory number tags or identifying marks, and they’re all privately hired because no-one in the regular forces or the riot police has any idea at all who they are,” the second anonymous source says. “But these things need to be tightly centralised in order to keep them from getting out of hand. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s being run through Sarangi, it has to be.” 

Neither Kharazishvili nor representatives for Sarangi Ltd responded to requests for comment.

‘Our Injuries Will Heal, but the Georgian Government’s Reputation Will Not’

Georgia’s accelerating authoritarian slide into Russia’s orbit has now seen its government launch a full-scale Belarusian-style crackdown on opposition voices.

“Sarangi mostly provides security to restaurants, businesses and so on. It’s a legitimate company, but it’s also being used to channel money to the groups behind the attacks. The rate is US$5,000 (£3,935) for each job, shared between however many of them it takes,” Targamadze adds, citing his own sources in Georgian intelligence.

These people, they beat their targets so severely there is now a serious danger that somebody may very well die. Take Katsarava, for example – I mean, the guy literally had to have part of his skull replaced

Givi Targamadze on the attacks on protesters

Byline Times has previously reported on the May 14 assault against David Katsarava, a staunch government critic and veteran of the war in Ukraine who has otherwise spent more than a decade closely monitoring the occupation line with South Ossetia. In a recent interview with this publication, he described in detail how he was bundled into a van outside parliament and beaten, no less than five times, by approximately a dozen masked, black-clothed assailants. 

“It was the last time, which was the most brutal, that I began to think they may actually be trying to kill me,” he remembers. “When they stopped beating me they took videos and then stepped outside, and after the fifth time they finally let me out of the van – because whoever it was they sent the recordings to, fortunately by that point my face seemed to have satisfied them.”

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It was another hour and half before Katsarava was finally taken to hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to replace the lower part of his shattered eye socket with a titanium bar, as well as repairing his broken nose and jaw.

Miraculously, he suffered only a concussion without any lasting neurological damage, though the resulting nerve damage has cost him all sensation on one side of his face, and for the rest of his life, he will have to undergo monthly monitoring to ensure he doesn’t lose sight in his left eye. 

Asked what he might want to say to his assailants – given prospects of further, more concrete international sanctions in the coming weeks, as well as parliamentary elections scheduled for later in October – Katsarava offers a pained but wry smile. “I know that their attacks will only become more brutal, because terror is the only thing they have left to maintain control of the Georgian people,” he says. 

“My message to them is this: your government is going to fall.”


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