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Okruashvili is back and ready to prove his innocence

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, November 21
Former Defense Minister of Georgia, Irakli Okruashvili, who has lived in political asylum in France since 2008, arrived in Georgia on November 20. He was arrested at Tbilisi International Airport immediately and moved to Gldani N8 prison due to the criminal cases that had been filed against him within the frames of the previous government. The arrival has already set off a range of assessments. The minority claims that Okruashvili has dealt with the current government. According to analysts, the former Defense Minister will make a “golden” witness against President Mikheil Saakashvili.

In March of 2008, a Georgian court found Okruashvili guilty of “large-scale extortion” and sentenced him in absentia, to 11 years in prison. A month later, Okruashvili was granted asylum in France. The former minister was also charged with the abuse of duties and money laundering, as well as the formation of illegal gangs on Georgian territory in May 2011.

According to Okriashvili he knew that he would be arrested for those cases. However, he is ready to stand against the court and prove his innocence. He has already refused to a plea bargain.

“I had two goals during the last several years– one was to get rid of Misha (President Saakashvili) and partially this goal has been achieved, and the second– to return home. I will be in Georgia and nobody will ever be able to force me to leave the country,” Okruashvili stated at the airport.

Okruashvili says that all the evidence against him was cooked-up.

“When I was imprisoned in 2007, the tactic was to aggravate the charges against me. In 2011, they (the former administration) changed tactics and charged me for attempting a coup. Everyone remembers what happened and I believe these accusations were all fabricated,” Irakli Okruashvili said.

Georgian majority representatives have already made various statements. They believe that Okruashvili was politically persecuted. However, this fact does not free him from all the charges.

“I share the view that Okruashvili was as subject of politically-motivated persecution by the previous government but it does not automatically mean that he is innocent in the criminal charges that he might face; it requires an investigation,” Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani stated.

Fellow majority representative, Viktor Dolidze, welcomed Okruashvili’s return and stated that there are definite questions for the former Defense Minister that will need to be answered.

Vice- Speaker, Zviad Dzidziguri underscored that Okruashvili’s arrival was “natural”. He has emphasized that there are many people who ran abroad due to President’s Saakashvili’s personal attitudes– including businessmen; all these people will come back to the homeland...

The majority representatives also state that Okruashvili’s fate should be decided by the court and the process should not have any link with politics.

Minority representative Goka Gabashvili thinks that Okruashvili will be released very soon. He claims that the former Defense Minister enjoys some guarantees from the new government, otherwise he would not have returned.

“Okruashvili has already been sentenced and currently he is detained. It is hard to make a prognosis. However, I think that he has guarantees from the new government,” Gabashvili stated.

Fellow minority representative, Pavle Kublashvili thinks that it will be nice if Okruashvili retells everything– “why he recognized the blame and what crimes had been committed by him.”

He has also stated that it is difficult for him to predict what verdict might be made by the court concerning Okruashvili.

Political analyst Soso Tsintsadze called Okruashvili the “golden witness” against President Saakashvili.

According to him, Okruashvili’s return will undoubtedly become the catalyst in starting important investigation processes and it will be directed against the former government and current president.

“I think that Okruashvili will also speak on Badri Patarkatsishvil’s case. Especially when he stated that Saakashvili had ordered the businessman’s death,” Tsintsadze said.

Analyst, Ramaz Sakvarelidze thinks that in the case that Okruashvili decides to speak, many criminal actions committed by former officials will be revealed.

“I do not think that the current government has made a deal with Okruashvili, as it is not hard for the new government to gather compromises against former officials. Coming back to Georgia was in Okruashvii’s interest,” Sakvarelidze thinks.

Analyst, Khatuna Lagazidze states that Okruashvili’s arrival to Georgia will be more headaches for the new Georgian leadership than a positive.

“The current opposition will use the fact as one more lever against the coalition to marginalize it in the eyes of the West and present the new government as a supporter of criminals,” Lagazidze suggested.

Okruashvili’s trial will be held on December 3.