Georgia's former president Mikheil Saakashvili says he does not plan to comply with a request from Georgian prosecutors to return to the country for questioning.
The Georgian prosecutor's office announced on March 22 that it has summoned Saakashvili to meet with investigators by March 27, Reuters reports. The authorities in Tbilisi say they want to talk to the former president, who is currently in the Netherlands, in connection with ten cases, including the death of former prime minister Zurab Zhvania.
Saakashvili said the move is part of a "Ivanishvili-Putin game" and claimed he had been informed by a senior EU official of "a direct order" from the Russian president for his arrest. Speaking to Rustavi 2 TV, Saakashvili said that he had left Georgia after his second presidential term ended in 2103 on the advice of senior US and EU officials.
The former president has been at loggerheads with Putin since before the short war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia in August 2008. After defeating Georgian forces in the five-day conflict, Putin's government recognised both South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region - Abkhazia - as independent states. More recently, Saakashvili has been an outspoken critic of Putin's action in Ukraine, visiting Kyiv to personally address the Euromaidan protesters in December.
"As it seems, in recent weeks I have stuck in Vladimir Putin's throat," Saakashvili said. "[I]f Putin thinks that I will go and quietly surrender of course that's nonsense... I am going to continue struggle for the liberation of Georgia and the entire region as a free person," he added.
Saakashvili came to power after Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution. He served two consecutive presidential terms between 2004 and 2013, continuing as a "lame duck" after his United National Movement (UNM) was defeated by Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream movement in the 2012 parliamentary elections.
Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia during the privatizations of the 1990s, and has focused on mending relations with Moscow since coming to power. At the same time, Georgia has also continued to strengthen relations with the EU, and progressed a trade and political pact with Brussels in November, despite pressure from Russia. Only Moldova joined it, despite plans for six CIS states to sign or initial, including Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Georgian Dream continues a campaign targeting its rival. After the change in government in Tbilisi, a series of investigations into key figures from the previous administration was launched, including some of Saakashvili's closest political allies. The UNM has accused the new government of running a witch hunt against the former government.
Prosecutors want to question Saakashvili over his decision to use his presidential pardon to halve the prison term of four people convicted in connection to the murder of banker Sandro Girgvliani. Other cases prosecutors say they want to discuss include investigations into several privatisations, a raid on the Imedi TV station, and attacks by several government offices on Ivanishvili's Cartu Bank after Ivanishvili announced his intention to enter politics.
Vano Merabishvili, who served as prime minister under Saakashvili in 2012, was sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement and extortion charges on February 17. A week later, he was also found guilty of abusing his powers as interior minister during the violent dispersal of an anti-government rally in Tbilisi in May 2011, and handed an additional four and a half year sentence. He faces further charges in connection to the Girgvliani murder inquiry. In December, Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava, a senior UNM official, was suspended from office after being charged with misuse of public funds.
The US State Department responded to the summons with a statement saying it is "concerned" by the decision to Saakashvili in for questioning. "No one is above the law, but launching multiple simultaneous investigations involving a former president raises legitimate concerns about political retribution, particularly when legal and judicial institutions are still fragile," the March 23 statement claimed.
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