Diplomat involved in fatal car wreck believed headed home
Jan. 10, 1997
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ignoring U.S. appeals that he be allowed to stand trial here, the Republic of Georgia is ordering home a diplomat involved in a high-speed car wreck that killed a 16-year old Maryland girl less than a week ago.
Protected by diplomatic immunity, Gueorgui Makharadze, 35, was expected to be on a flight back to his homeland before the weekend, U.S. officials said Thursday night.
Without immunity, the U.S. attorney's office said Makharadze would face charges ranging from negligent homicide to second-degree murder.
Makharadze was involved in a five-car crash last Friday that killed Jovianne Waltrick, 16, of Kensington, Md.
Makharadze was not given Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol tests because of his diplomatic status. Skid marks and witness accounts indicated his car had been traveling up to 80 mph, police said.
Since the accident, the case has become a favorite subject of radio talk shows, with many callers complaining about a system that leaves diplomats above the law. The State Department says diplomatic immunity is the only defense American envoys abroad have against arbitrary arrest.
The U.S. Embassy in Georgia received a diplomatic note Thursday saying Makharadze was being recalled. The note was received just hours after Georgia's foreign minister promised that the diplomat would remain here during the course of the investigation.
The surprise shift in the Georgian government's position prompted the State Department to request formally that Georgian authorities lift Makharadze's diplomatic immunity so he can stand trial.
Initially, the State Department did not plan to request a waiver of diplomatic immunity until after completion of the investigation.
Georgia's ambassador was summoned to the State Department at midafternoon and was notified of the U.S. request. He also was asked to ensure that Makharadze remain in the United States until a formal answer is given on whether his government will agree to lift his immunity.
Officials said the envoy was unresponsive when asked about Makharadze's whereabouts. They assumed that Makharadze's departure was irreversible and that the State Department would not be informed of it until he was gone.
If he does leave, officials said he would be prevented from returning to the United States unless he agrees to face the charges against him.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher outlined his concerns about the case in a letter to Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze.
Efforts to obtain comment from the envoy's personal lawyer, the Georgian government's attorney and the Georgian Embassy spokesman were unsuccessful.