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Georgia’s ex-Tbilisi Mayor sent back to prison after one day freedom

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, September 21
After a one-day release from 14-months of pre-trial detention, former Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava was sent to prison again on September 19 through the verdict of Tbilisi City Court for the charge related to misspending of budgetary funds when he took official post.

Ugulava, aged 40, is facing 4 year and 6 months imprisonment for the charge.

After voicing the verdict, Ugulava, who served as Tbilisi Mayor under the United National Movement (UNM), and the opposition UNM members stressed that Ugulava was a victim of political persecution and he was a “personal prisoner of the founder of the Georgian Dream Coalition, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili”.

Ugulava and the UNM emphasized that the “political persecution” would lead the current government to the collapse in the upcoming 2016 parliamentary elections.

In response, the government and the Georgian Dream representatives stated that Ugulava was the subject of a legal process and the government had nothing to do with the court verdict.

Member of the coalition Eka Beselia excluded the return of the “criminal National Movement” back to Government through the 2016 elections.

Prior to the City Court solution over the imprisonment, a day before, the same court released the ex-Mayor from 14-month pre-trial detention as the Constitutional Court had made a verdict through which keeping an individual in prison in pre-trial detention more than official nine-month period was unlawful.

The Constitutional Court made the verdict to the legal norm since Ugulava’s lawyers protested their defendant being in jail for more than nine-months and the City Court obeyed the decision of the Constitutional Court and freed Ugulava.

The Constitutional Court decision was welcomed by the UNM members and the foreign missions in Georgia.

The Embassy of the United States to Georgia and the EU representation in the country stated that it was an “historic decision”.

“A strong, independent judiciary bolsters Georgia’s image as a rules-based, transparent democracy that upholds the rule of law and due process for all of its citizens. We reiterate the importance of ensuring all cases are handled in accordance to the highest international standards of due process and rule of law,” the US Embassy said.

“The fact this decision was made means that the Georgian court follows proper principles. Earlier we had questions concerning this. So from my point of view, this decision is a big achievement,” the European Union representation added.

Since Ugulava was sent to prison again the European People’s Party (EPP) that is allied with the UNM, released a statement, saying that situation in Georgia “was sending alarming signals” over selective justice that might hinder Georgia’s European aspirations.

Georgian analyst Gia Khukhashvili said that through the process over Ugulava the UNM won a tactical war against the current Government. The analyst stressed that the process hinted on institutional independence in Georgia and the failure of the current Government to use the situation in a positive aspect.

“ In general, the situation revealed the independence of the court system. However, various irresponsible statements made by several members of the coalition overshadowed the achievements and enabled the UNM to cause more question marks over legal processes in Georgia,” the analyst said, noting that the Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office failure to investigate cases appropriately in a timely manner was the source of all complications.

“However, the UNM has less chance to win the elections. Public may think that the government is bad, but they also think that the UNM is worse,” Khukhashvili said.

He stated that Ugulava’s one day of freedom and subsequent re-imprisonment would raise more questions in Georgia’s foreign allies concerning the trials against Georgia’s former officials.

The first charges against Ugulava date back to 2013 when he was still the Mayor of Tbilisi. The charge concerned two separate cases of alleged misspending and embezzlement of a large amount of public funds and money laundering.

In December 2013, additional charges were filed against the former official that involved the alleged misspending of 48.18 million GEL of budget money in 2011-2012.

Charges related to alleged money laundering when Ugulava led the UNM campaign in 2014 were filed against him in July 2014 and through a court order he was sentenced to pre-trial detention.

Ugulava was still in pre-trial detention in July 2014 when the Chief Prosecutor’s office filed a new set of charges against him, involving exceeding of official power in connection of dispersal of the November 7, 2007 anti-government protests, as well as the raid on and seizure of Imedi TV station and property owned at the time by late tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.