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Ex-Mayor of Tbilisi released from prison

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, January 10
The former Mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, left prison on January 6 after Tbilisi Court of Appeals re-qualified his charge and shortened his prison term.

When leaving prison, Ugulava said he was a “political prisoner” and called on the Georgian Dream government to release other “political prisoners from the United National Movement party”, the party Ugulava belongs to and which governed Georgia between 2003-2012.

If Parliament fails to do so, Ugulava stated that President Giorgi Margvelashvili should pardon the “political prisoners.”

The released ex-Mayor also vowed to play a role to settle the current inter-party confrontation in the UNM, which pits those advocating for the return of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and others hoping to break from the party’s past.

Ugulava, who had stated he wished to see new leadership for the UNM, said he was ready to meet with Saakashvili, who is now a citizen of Ukraine and is wanted on several charges by Georgian law enforcers.

Ugulava was sentenced in September 2015 to four years and six months by Tbilisi City Court after being found guilty of misspending public funds while serving as Tbilisi Mayor.

The Prosecutor’s Office claimed Ugulava misspent GEL 4.1 million by creating over 760 fictitious municipal jobs to pay salaries for UNM party activists.

The Court of Appeals re-qualified the misspending charges and found him guilty of exceeding official powers.

The court sentenced him to one year, three months and 22 days in prison, taking into account the December 2012 amnesty act initiated by the current Government after the Georgian Dream team defeated the nine-year rule of the UNM through the 2012 Parliamentary Elections.

In his speech before the Court of Appeals delivered its verdict, Ugulava said:

“If I had planned to separate the administrative body and the ruling [UNM] party from each other, I would have managed to do it, but I did not have this goal. I am now sorry that I did not have that goal. If the employees of state service work as activists of any party, it is bad, but it is in no way misappropriation or embezzlement.”

Some UNM members applauded Ugulavaoutside the prison, calling him a “political prisoner” and a “high-class politician” who could play a positive role in the UNM’s future strengthening and unity.

After meeting with UNM members on January 7,Ugulava repeated he was ready to meet with Saakashvili, but added now the ex-President was not in Ukraine.

He stressed there was “no room” for the UNM’s ongoing confrontation when the country faces a “severe problem of informal governance”by the founder of the current ruling force, billionaire BidzinaIvanishvili.

Saakashvili, for his part, dedicated a Facebook post to Ugulava’s release, stressing that the ex-Mayor was innocent and highlighted people in Georgia “were imprisoned or released” based on Ivanishvili’s wish.

The ex-President wrote Ivanishvili “must be demanded to release political prisoners and let[Saakashvili] come back to Georgia to participate in the UNM congress scheduled on January 20”.

Members of the ruling force dismissed the opposition’s and Ugulava’s claims about imprisonment on political grounds.

“Ugulava stated himself that hundreds of UNM activities were employed at the Mayor’s office. It’s impossible to speak about political grounds,” AkakiZoidze from the ruling Georgian Dream stated.

“The Court didn’t say Ugulava was innocent, he was found guilty and his prison term was decreased,” EkaBeselia from the majority stated.

The judicial system of Georgia has the opportunity to be independent which is an integral part of any healthy democratic system, the United States Embassy in Georgia responded to Ugulava’s release.

"We are closely watching the progress of former Mayor Gigi Ugulava’s case,” the statement read.

"The right to appeal a decision is an important part of any democratic judicial system. The Court of Appeals assessed the evidence and enabled the parties to present their legal arguments,” the Embassy added.