February 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Diplomat Stripped Of Immunity After Fatal Car Crash

Associated Press
 

In a rare move, the Republic of Georgia lifted immunity for the second-ranking diplomat in its Washington embassy, clearing the way for his arrest in a fatal car crash, the State Department said Saturday.

George Makharadze could be charged with crimes reportedly as serious as involuntary manslaughter in the death of 16-year-old Joviane Waltrick. Police said Makharadze, 35, had been drinking and appeared to have been speeding.

“This is an unusual case,” State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said. “There are very few instances in diplomatic history where a government has lifted diplomatic immunity in a case like this, where the charges are so serious.

“We’re very gratified. … We think this is the best step forward, and we’re very, very appreciative to the government of Georgia,” Burns said.

At the crash site Saturday, Viviane Wagner, the girl’s mother said, “Immunity is not impunity. … Was it necessary for my daughter to have left for people to understand?”

Wagner, a Brazilian immigrant, has campaigned since the accident to force a decision in the immunity case.

She has held nightly vigils at the flower-strewn site of the collision on downtown Dupont Circle and has passed out leaflets urging people to bring flowers or to write to authorities and demand justice.

Wagner called Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze “a man of courage” for waiving Makharadze’s diplomatic immunity, and the United States “a country of justice.”

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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