Monica Ellana in Tbilisi -
A Tbilisi court on March 15 accepted the request of the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia to scale up charges against Gigi Ugulava, meaning that controversially the capital’s former mayor, who has been in jail for eight months now, will remain in detention until his trial begins.
Since the Georgian Dream coalition gained power in 2012, the Georgian government has been urged by its Western allies to not use the justice system to settle scores against its political opponents in the former ruling party, the United National Movement (UNM). The calls began when dozens of officials during the years of former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s rule from 2004 to 2013 were arrested on charges such as abuse of office and corruption. In February, the special rapporteur of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, Pedro Agramunt, condemned Georgia’s pre-trial detention practises after Ugulava’s request for bail was denied on February 18.
According to Ugulava’s defense lawyer, the decision to bring harsher charges was aimed specifically at extending the opposition politician’s pre-trial detention, which was otherwise due to expire in early April.
“The content of the charges actually remains the same, but they [the prosecutors] made the charges graver, which has only one purpose – to ask the court to keep Ugulava in prison,” the ex-mayor’s defense lawyer, Beka Basilaia, told journalists on March 14.
The Prosecutor’s Office revised the charges stemming from events that occurred in November 2007 when police violently ended several days of peaceful demonstrations organized by Georgia’s opposition calling for early elections and the release of political prisoners. The confrontation also led to a police raid on and “seizure” of Imedi TV station and other assets owned at the time by tycoon Badri Pararkatsishvili, who died in February 2008.
Ugulava has been in pre-trial detention since early July 2014 in connection with a separate, though unrelated case involving money-laundering charges. But the maximum term of pre-trial detention is nine months, which was about to expire. As the Tbilisi City Court has positively ruled on prosecution’s motion for pre-trial detention, Ugulava will now remain in custody.
Saakashvili, of whom Ugulava is a close ally, former prime minister Vano Merabishvili and ex-defence minister Davit Kezerashvili are also facing criminal charges in the same case. Charges against Kezerashvili as well as former minister of justice Zurab Adeishvili have also been escalated.
Former president Saakashvili has been out of the country since November 2013 and has failed to appear at the Prosecutor’s Office after being summoned for questioning. He is currently in Ukraine where he was appointed an adviser to President Petro Poroshenko.. The Prosecutor’s Office has applied for the extradition of both Saakashvili and Adeishvili, who is also living in Ukraine, but the request has been denied.
In February, Merabishvili was sentenced to five years for abuse of office, while Kezerashvili lives in France. In February, a court in the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence ruled out his extradition on account of what “appeared to be politically motivated” request from Georgia.
The new leadership in Georgia denies accusations that they are conducting a political witch-hunt and have promised fair trials. But Western countries have expressed concern that the new government has used selective justice and political persecution against opponents.
In a statement released on March 14, the US embassy in Georgia criticised the court’s decision and said that the revision of criminal charges “appears to be an effort to subvert the nine-month limit on pre-trial detention”. “We encourage the government of Georgia to take steps to strengthen the rule of law and avoid any perception it may be engaging in a campaign of politically-motivated justice,” the statement read.
Last December, the European Parliament ratified the free trade and association deal with Georgia, welcoming the Georgian authorities’ “recent reforms” to “strengthen” democratic institutions”. The accompanying resolution, however, also expressed concern about “the lack of accountability of the prosecutor’s office” and about numerous former government officials and current opposition figures being charged and imprisoned. It also warned against “the potential use of the judicial system to fight against political opponents, which could undermine Georgia’s European course and the efforts of the Georgian authorities in the area of democratic reform.”
Civil.ge reported that on March 9, the chairman of the EP group, Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili stating that, “bringing new charges against a major political figure solely aimed at keeping him in detention will be viewed as proof of politically-motivated prosecution and will continue to be destructive for Georgia’s international image.”
bne IntelliNews - The former owner of Georgian TV station Rustavi 2 has won his court case to regain control of the independent broadcaster, which was taken from him under ... more
Monica Ellena in Tbilisi - Georgia Healthcare Group (GHG), the country’s largest healthcare provider, is gearing up to float on London’s stock exchange, setting a price range that could value ... more
Juha Kähkönen of the IMF - The Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) region continues to navigate a wave of external shocks – the slump in global prices of oil and other key commodities, the slowdown ... more