London judge overrules petition to extradite former Georgian defence minister

By bne IntelliNews April 7, 2016

A judge at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court has overruled a petition to extradite former Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili, according to civil.ge. Kezerashvili won a similar trial in France in February 2014.

Kezerashvili served as chief of Georgia's financial police from 2004 to 2006 and as defence minister from 2006 to 2008, when he left the government. He served under the administration of the United National Movement (UNM), a party founded by former President Mikheil Saakashvili that is now the leading opposition party. Several UNM officials, including Saakashvili, are wanted in Georgia for alleged criminal charges.

Saakashvili has been stripped off of his Georgian citizenship and is now a Ukrainian citizen and the governor of Odessa Region in Ukraine. Both Saakashvili and Kezerashvili have denied the charges brought against them, claiming that they were politically motivated.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, founded by billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, has sought to sideline UNM, by calling it a criminal organisation and endorsing violence against its members. Attacks against UNM offices in November, and against other opposition members in February and March have raised red flags about the status of democracy in Georgia and political infighting.

The Westminster court judge deemed that the desire to prosecute former UNM officials had an ulterior motive, and that "there were reasonable chances, a serious possibility, that the defendent's liberty will be restricted (and in particular that he may be held in pre-trial detention) because of a flawed prosecution process motivated by a desire to obtain a conviction of a UNM politician, or by a desire to obtain evidence from Mr. Kezerashvili that can be used against senior former colleagues".

On April 6, Georgia's Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said that Tbilisi would continue efforts to bring UNM officials back to the country.

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