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Shida Kartli Ex-Governor Arrested
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 23 Sep.'07 / 21:49

Controversial ex-governor behind bars 
on corruption charges.
Mikheil Kareli, the former governor of Shida Kartli region, was arrested on September 23, while trying to flee the country, Nika Gvaramia, the deputy prosecutor general, said.

Gvaramia said Kareli was charged with bribery and illegal business practices.

Later on September 23 a court sent Kareli to two months' pre-trial detention pending an investigation.

The deputy prosecutor general pointed out that the case concerned “a sophisticated corruption scheme” involving an agricultural enterprise wherein the local municipality in the Shida Kartli region owned 21%. Through this scheme, Gvaramia alleged, Kareli and his accomplices had been embezzling 50% of the enterprise's profits.

Kareli was reportedly arrested at Tbilisi airport before boarding the flight en-route to Istanbul.

Mikheil Kareli, who has close links to the ex-defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili, was dismissed from the governor's position on September 12 after condemning what he saw as the politically-motivated arrest of several officials from his local administration.

Kareli has always been a source of controversy during his three years in office.

Public Defender Sozar Subari has long accused Kareli of intimidating local businessmen in the Shida Kartli region and illegally misappropriating their assets.

Saba Tsitsikashvili, a journalist from the Tbilisi-based Akhali Versia newspaper, who was investigating alleged wrongdoing by Kareli and his administration, was attacked and brutally beaten up in Gori, the main town in Shida Kartli, in 2005.

Kareli was also associated with the controversial arrest of a local newspaper editor in Gori in 2005, who was later released after an outcry by human right groups.

Kareli was also numerously accused by opposition lawmakers and even the Public Defender of being behind smuggling rings in Shida Kartli region, which borders breakaway South Ossetia.

Despite the allegations, not a single probe had been carried out by the prosecutor’s office into Kareli’s activities up to now.

In March 2005, after a shake-up of the police in Shida Kartli and the arrest of some police officers for alleged smuggling, President Saakashvili even defended Kareli, saying he was “an honest person.”

President Saakashvili said on September 23 that he had trusted Kareli two years ago.

“We should have intervened much sooner,” Saakashvili told reporters. “We had too much trust in certain people and they received too much praise from us. It should not have been this way. However, it is better to react later than never at all.”

Speculation about Kareli’s possible dismissal first emerged shortly after his major backer, Irakli Okruashvili quit the government last year.

Since then Kareli maintained a low profile, with many suggesting he was the governor in name only.

Recently the law enforcement agents launched a probe into, what they called, a corruption scheme in the local administration of the Shida Kartli region.

On September 12 several officials from the local administration, including Vasil Makharashvili, the governor of Gori; Nugzar Papunashvili, the deputy chairman of the Sakrebulo (City Council) and Gaioz Dzanadia, the governor of the Kareli district, were arrested on corruption charges.

Kareli and a lawmaker, Teo Tlashadze, who is also a close ally of Irakli Okruashvili, both condemned the arrests as politically motivated. Kareli was sacked on the same day on September 12.

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