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Ugulava accused of misspending government funds

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, December 19
Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava has been charged with misspending over 48 million GEL, money that was earmarked for the Tbilisi Development Fund, which was established in 2010 and aimed at the reconstruction and development of the capital. If found guilty, Ugulava may face 7 to 11 years in prison.

However, after the questioning at the Prosecutor’s Office on December 18, Ugulava was let go. The investigation of the case is still underway.

According to the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office, the Mayor of Tbilisi, who also represents the United National Movement (UNM), together with other high-ranking officials of Tbilisi City Hall, “elaborated a criminal scheme” to cover the expenses of the UNM election campaign for the Parliamentary elections in October of 2012 instead of using the funds for the development of Tbilisi and its rehabilitation.

The Prosecutor’s Office also stated that a year earlier in November 2011, debit cards had been made for fictitious specialists who in reality were activists of the UNM. Money illegally accumulated on these cards as salary was distributed among UNM activists. Over 48 million GEL had been misspent during this time.

Former Deputy Mayor of Tbilisi Davit Alavidze, former chairman of Tbilisi Development Fund Giorgi Sabanadze, and several other former high-ranking officials have been accused of being members of an “organized criminal group.”

Charged with the abuse of power Ugulava said after the interrogation on Thursday that he will prove his innocence. Calling the case against him “absurd”, he said this is an “entirely political decision.”

Ugulava thinks as the local self-governance elections are approaching the Georgian government tries to discredit all the opponents. “All the accusations invented against me will burst like a soap bubble one day,” Ugulava said confident that the Georgian government will face total failure at the upcoming local self-government elections when the several large cities including the capital Tbilisi will be electing a new Mayor.

Ugulava thinks the Georgian Dream wants retribution. However, he said this road would only take the country into economic collapse and devastation.

Supporters greeted Ugulava in front of the Prosecutor’s Office. UNM member Davit Bakradze like other UNM members thinks that the country needs more peace, investment, jobs, and income instead of revenge. According to Bakradze, any confrontation will cause more questions among Georgia’s foreign partners. A day earlier on December 17, UNM member Giga Bokeria said on Rustavi 2’s talk show The Choice that “a new phase of political persecution has started.”

It was at the court session on Tuesday when the former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, accused the Chief Prosecutor, Otar Partskhaladze, of exercising pressure on him. Expressing solidarity with Ugulava, Merabishvili said if Ugulava is detained, he will share his cell with his old friend and help him get used to the life in prison.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office denied placing any kind of pressure on Merabishvili, stressing his allegations are absurd. However, the office promised to start investigating the case in the frames of the law.

Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Thea Tsulukiani commented over Ugulava’s case that it is natural when the investigation summons a person as a witness for interrogation if it has some questions. Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure Davit Narmania said Ugulava had been summoned several times before, which is not “a chase” but part of an investigation.

After returning from his visit to Baku, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibahsvili addressed the sides, in an attempt to put an end to the mess and to allow the government to work. He said later on Wednesday that the investigation into the case will be transparent and there will be no reason to criticize the government for conspiracy.