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Partners from US react to opposition leader Ugulava’s arrest

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Wednesday, February 12
The Supreme Court of Georgia has found Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of opposition European Georgia party, guilty of misspending GEL 48 million of public money from the Tbilisi Development Fund, while serving as the mayor of the capital city, and sentenced him to 38 months in jail. The former mayor was imprisoned for the same case several years ago.

Gigi Ugulava, summoned to the Supreme Court of Georgia to appear for the execution of the verdict, arrived at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Before entering the building, Ugulava addressed the public with the following words: “The fight continues until we get rid of this black plague, Bidzina Ivanishvili.”

Following the procedures, the Secretary-General of European Georgia was taken to Matrosov prison.

The three-member chamber of the Supreme Court, consisting of former Chief Prosecutor and now Supreme Court judge Shalva Tadumadze, Lali Papiashvili and Merab Gabinashvili deliberated on the case without an oral hearing, depriving the parties of an opportunity to voice their arguments. The opposition, NGOs and non-judge members of the High Council of Justice have said they are members of the so-called clan of judges who will make useful decisions for the government.

On February 6, Beka Basilaia filed a motion to dismiss Judge Shalva Tadumadze as he was serving as the Prosecutor General during the case against Ugulava in the course of the case and during the preparation of the cassation appeal. However, Tadumadze did not back down.

According to the Georgian Public Defender, the detention of Ugulava is a materialization of the threats that the Ombudsman demanded to suspend the appointment of judges. According to the Ombudsman Nino Lomjaria, Ugulava's case reveals flaws regarding the impartiality of Judge Shalva Tadumadze.

The Ombudsman notes that in cases with such gaps with regards to the procedure of appointment of a judge have been identified, the European Court of Human Rights has already found a violation of the right to a fair trial.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, Chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream, told Imedi TV on November 28, 2019, that "some are serving years in prison and many more will have to be punished." This threat of the Georgian Dream leader was cited in letters from US senators and congressmen as political persecution of opponents.

A Republican member of the US House of Representatives, Co-Chair of the Friendship Group with Georgia, Adam Kinzinger tweeted about Ugulava’s arrest and wrote that using the court as a weapon was not in line with the rules of democracy.

"Gigi Ugulava, leader of European Georgia, was arrested today and sentenced to 38 months in prison for an old crime. To say this is disturbing would be an understatement. Using the courts as a weapon is NOT a democracy," Kinzinger wrote.

Last week Kinzinger met with the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia Archil Talakvadze, who is in Washington. Before that, he was one of the two signatories of the letter, focusing on the shortcomings of the democratic process in Georgia and addressed by the Georgian authorities.

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Jim Risch responded to the arrest of Gigi Ugulava on an official Senate Foreign Relations Twitter page and said he is disappointed that "Georgia has chosen to increase the politically motivated harassment of opposition politicians.”

Senator Risch also recalled that last week, during a meeting with Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, he said: "the collapse of judicial independence and the persecution of opposition is unacceptable behavior."

Jim Rish and Adam Kinsinger are among the top US politicians who sent letters of concern to the Georgian PM in December-January and met with the Foreign Minister and Speaker of Parliament in Washington last week.

The foreign minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevicius, also responded to Ugulava’s arrest, tweeting: "The judiciary shouldn’t be used to persecute the opposition, which is a must for democratic societies.” He referred to upcoming parliamentary elections as a litmus test for democracy in Georgia.

12 local NGOs estimate that the arrest of Ugulava, "will continue the political persecution of opponents of the government." NGOs point out that the Supreme Court's ruling is problematic in several respects - violations of the case, ignoring statements by Western partners and disrupting negotiations with the opposition.