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Okruashvili, a ‘political refugee’ in Germany, vows to unseat the president

Wednesday, November 7, 2007, #213 (1480)

By Ana Datiashvili

Photo of Irakli Okruashvili

In a dramatic television interview from Munich, ex-minister Irakli Okruashvili vowed to bring down the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

“This is the first TV interview where I am really nervous,” Okruashvili began, speaking live to Imedi TV on Monday night. “First of all I want apologize to those people who are standing on Rustaveli Avenue, because I must be next to them, not sitting in a studio in Munich… and I apologize to those whom I disappointed after my forced confession from jail.”

Okruashvili, a former minister of defense and close Saakashvili confidant, was arrested September 27, two days after announcing his own political opposition party and accusing the president of being neck-deep in corruption and murder plots.

He was released October 9, after authorities released a televised interrogation in which he confessed to some of the charges against him and retracted his allegations against the government.

Monday night was the first time he has spoken publicly since being arrested.

In explaining his confession, Okruashvili said he was “psychologically pressured.” He declined to go into details, but denied that he was under the influence of drugs at the time, as many Georgians suggested he may have been.

Likening President Mikheil Saakashvili to a “modern-day Adolf Hitler,” Okruashvili returned to attacking the president personally.

“He’s getting information from an inner circle which tells him that there are only five or six people standing outside [parliament in protest]. You are wrong. Your days are numbered, Misha [Saakashvili]. You will go down in history as the most unfair, the most tasteless, the most corrupt and most violent president,” stated Okruashvili.

“I have only one thing in my mind: to get rid of you [Saakashvili.] Nothing else,” he said.

Addressing the protestors outside parliament, Okruashvili said the president has pushed the public into a contest of “endurance.” That, he said, is a contest which Georgians have never lost.

He alleged he was rushed out of the country after the government learned he planned to join protestors on November 2 in front of parliament.

“I’ve been forced to become a political refugee, but I will return soon,” Okruashvili vowed, predicting that the Saakashvili administration will fall before much longer.

The former defense minister also levied new accusations against the president, saying that Saakashvili once misused defense budget sums to buy himself an airplane.

Okruashvili also showed a stack of papers to the camera, claiming to have a list of every phone number tapped by the Interior Ministry in 2005 and 2006. He said he would release the numbers, which include those of high-ranking government officials, to a Georgian newspaper on Tuesday. Deputy Prosecutor General Nika Gvaramia held a press briefing the next day, denying many of Okruashvili’s new allegations.

The jailed ex-minister was bailed out by two of his close associates, Gvaramia said, contradicting Okruashvili’s insistence that he was barely aware of who paid his GEL 10 million bail bond.

Gvaramia spoke about a man named Davit Jibghashvili, who owned a credit card Okruashvili allegedly used while on a trip to London. He stated that Jibghashvili, in a tapped phone conversation, mentioned giving money to Okruashvili which came from a “Badri in London.” The deputy prosecutor general also denied that authorities forced Okruashvili abroad. The ex-minister asked permission to leave for medical treatment, Gvaramia said, which was granted. Gvaramia suggested that Okruashvili intended to leave Georgia for London—a base for tycoon and political opposition financier Badri Patarkatsishvili—but after being denied a visa, secured a French visa valid for the Schengen countries.

Okruashvili is close to being declared a fugitive, Gvaramia warned.

“If [Okruashvili] does not return to Georgia at the very first demand of investigators, [his] bail will be transferred to the account of the state budget and his name will be put on the wanted list,” the deputy prosecutor general said.