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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgian Diplomat to Stay in U.S.

WASHINGTON -- In a reversal, Republic of Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze on Friday ordered a diplomat involved in car wreck that killed a 16-year-old girl to remain in the United States until an investigation is completed.


In addition, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Shevardnadze informed the U.S. embassy in Georgia that he is prepared to waive the diplomatic immunity of the envoy, Gueorgui Makharadze. He could face charges ranging from negligent homicide to second degree murder.


Formal charges against Makharadze could come next week. The State Department asked the Georgian government on Thursday to waive his diplomatic immunity.


Shevardnadze's directive countermanded a diplomatic note delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Georgia on Thursday asserting that Makharadze, 35, was being recalled home.


U.S. officials had expected Makharadze to be out of the country by the weekend.


Shevardnadze was quoted as saying: "The question of stripping Gueorgui Makharadze of diplomatic immunity in connection with the Jan. 4 incident that took a life continues to be discussed.


"Georgian citizen Gueorgui Makharadze must remain in the United States until the investigation is completed and the legal procedures are finished, and until a single decision is reached between the governments of the two countries.''


Efforts to obtain comment from the envoy's personal lawyer, the Georgian government's attorney and the Georgian Embassy spokesman were unsuccessful.


Makharadze was involved in a five-car crash last Friday that killed Jovianne Waltrick of Kensington, Maryland, a Washington, D.C., suburb.


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 129 kilometers per hour, 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 he would remain in the United States 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 Shevardnadze.