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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Threats Force Tbilisi Hotel Manager to Flee

TBILISI, Georgia -- The general manager of Georgia's only international hotel has fled the country, saying he feared for his life, after he and two American employees were beaten up inside Tbilisi's luxury Metechi Palace last week.


"They said they going to hurt me ... that they were going to come back and then we are history," declared Wilhelmus Vastbinder Garcia, before hurriedly boarding a flight to Vienna on Saturday.


Vastbinder Garcia, a Dutch citizen, said a group of armed Georgian men had attacked him, the hotel chef John Kotas and another employee in the Metechi Palace's restaurant last Tuesday.


"This is the second time they have beaten me up," said Vastbinder Garcia, who accused members of Georgia's shadowy Mekhedrioni militia group of carrying out the attack. "I know them, they were definitely Mekhedrioni."


Since Vastbinder Garcia's departure, staff have refused to confirm or deny his claims. "I can't tell you anything. Not even off the record," whispered one nervous official, standing in a dark corner near the reception. "I have a family here. This is a matter of life and death."


The Mekhedrioni, or Horsemen, an organization which gained fame and notoriety for its role in Georgia's recent civil wars, has strenuously denied any involvement in the affair.


"Any bunch of bandits can walk into a shop these days and say they're the Mekhedrioni," said Tamaz Suladze, a senior Mekhedrioni official. "But we did not do this. Where is the proof?"


Until recently, the Mekhedrioni were responsible for security at the hotel, which is operated by the Marco Polo chain and the Georgian government.


But the relationship soured after the U.S. Embassy, worried about the Kalashnikov-wielding security guards, and by a string of horror stories from guests, banned all American officials from the building.


In September, shortly after the ban, the Mekhedrioni's contract was terminated. An elated Vastbinder Garcia predicted that business at the $200-a-night hotel would quickly pick up.


But the US Embassy, which briefly lifted its ban, has now reimposed it. One Western diplomat predicted that the latest incident would discourage investment in the country as a whole.