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Okruashvili stays in the public eye, with an extradition decision pending

By Anna Kamushadze
Tuesday, February 19
Arrested ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili, who is awaiting an extradition ruling in France but has suggested a return to politics in time for the parliamentary elections, gave an interview to a Russian television channel from Paris, where is under house arrest.

In an interview with the state-owned Russian network Channel One aired last week, Okruashvili spoke about the death of business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, repeating his allegation, first made in Georgia last September, that President Mikheil Saakashvili personally requested the assassination of Patarkatsishvili.

Okruashvili praised the billionaire former presidential candidate, who died in effective exile after being charged in Georgia with conspiring to overthrow the state.

“Patarkatsishvili was a powerful man. He did a lot for Georgia, and he is not only a loss for Georgian politics but for the whole country,” Okruashvili says.

Gia Tortladze, a member of Movement for a United Georgia, the party Okruashvili founded, said their absent party leader’s interview came as a surprise but Okruashvili’s allegation about a government assassination plot against Patarkatsishvili did not.

“Okruashvili made this statement long ago on Imedi. I don’t think he said anything new. I can’t give my own conclusions until an alternative examination [of Patarkatsishvili’s body] is done, but anything is possible from this government,” Tortladze told the Messenger on February 17.

Okruashvili made his allegations of government malfeasance and murder plot on September 25, as he launched his opposition party after a year out of politics. Police arrested him at his party headquarters two days later on corruption charges.

Political analyst Gia Khukhashvili suggests Okruashvili, despite facing possible extradition to Georgia, still carries sway with the public.

“His statement has weight. Okruashvili was not a guy from the street—he was a minister of defense and one of the people closest to the president,” Khukhashvili said.

Back in Tbilisi, meanwhile, members of Movement for a United Georgia are demanding that authorities allow them back in their impounded party headquarters in central Tbilisi, boarded up after Okruashvili’s arrest.

Party leader and Okruashvili lawyer Eka Beselia told journalists that the law is on their side.

“There is no law which bans us from using the building, even if it is [a legally frozen asset],” Beselia said on February 14.

She also demands compensation for damage the party says was sustained when police entered the building to arrest Okruashvili.

Human Rights Ombudsman Sozar Subari issued a statement on February 16 backing up the party’s claims.

“It is obvious that the party members have the right to use the building,” his letter stated, citing legal regulations that allow for the use of property even if it has been frozen.

According to the ombudsman, the building was impounded on October 6 2006 by a Tbilisi court ruling.

“But the court did not check the ownership document,” the statement continues. “The building… is owned by ten other people, in addition to Okruashvili. So the court illegally froze the property of other people.”

“We will take the ombudsman’s recommendations and conclusions to the Prosecutor General’s Office. It is illegal to ban a political party from using its own office,” said Tortladze, the Movement for a United Georgia member.