February 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Diplomat Surrenders To Face Charges Republic Of Georgia Envoy Involved In Fatal Auto Crash

New York Times
 

A diplomat from the Republic of Georgia, whose involvement in a fatal automobile accident last month focused attention on diplomatic immunity, walked into a police station Thursday and surrendered to face charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

The diplomat, Gueorgui Makharadze, was arrested three days after the government of President Eduard Shevardnadze took the unusual step of waiving the immunity extended to Makharadze by international treaty. After surrendering, Makharadze appeared in Superior Court and was released in the custody of the Georgia Embassy while awaiting an indictment.

Outside court, Makharadze expressed sorrow for the accident on Jan. 3, which killed Joviane Waltrick, 16, a Brazilian who lived in Kensington, Md., after having recently moved to the United States with her family. He said he understood his government’s decision to waive his immunity, but he called on Americans not to prejudge him “until all the facts are known.”

The case has revived an old debate over whether immunity is an excuse to shield diplomats who willfully violate the law.

It is highly unusual for countries to waive immunity for diplomats accused of crimes overseas. The United States has invoked immunity in recent years to protect its diplomats, arguing that they could not be guaranteed American standards of justice in other countries.

But in the weeks after the accident the United States pressed Georgia to allow Makharadze to face prosecution, arguing that the crime was serious and clear-cut enough to warrant a waiver.

In an affidavit released Thursday the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Eric Holder Jr., accused Makharadze of driving on the night of the accident with “a gross deviation from a reasonable standard,” after having drunk heavily in a nearby restaurant.

Just before midnight, the affidavit said, Makharadze’s car plowed into another vehicle that was waiting at a red light. The force of the crash - Holder’s office estimated that the diplomat was driving more than 80 miles an hour in an area with a limit of 25 - catapulted the second car into a third, killing Waltrick as she sat in the passenger seat.

Police officers said they suspected that Makharadze had been drinking, but that because of diplomatic immunity he was neither arrested nor tested. At the hospital, however, his blood tests showed alcohol levels at twice the legal limit of 0.10 nearly two hours after the accident, the affidavit said.

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