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Abkhaz Opposition Politician Arrested for 'Libel'
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 22 Jan.'11 / 00:23

Leader of the Abkhaz opposition People's Party, Iakub Lakoba, was arrested on Friday evening in Sokhumi after the prosecutor's office charged him of slandering head of Russia’s state audit chamber Sergei Stepashin, Abkhaz and Russian reports say.

In an article published on his party's website on January 15, Lakoba blasted Stepashin for, as he suggested, trying to paper over financial violations in Abkhazia. which were revealed as a result of the audit of aid funds allocated by Moscow to Abkhazia in 2009-2010.

Speaking at a news conference in Sokhumi on January 12, Stepashin said that financial violations were mainly a result of mismanagement, lack of financial discipline and poor budgetary procedures.

Despite some violations, he said, "no swindlers in use of Russian financial aid have not been found in Abkhazia."

The Russian State Audit Chamber made public findings of the audit on January 20, according to which financial violations worth of 346.8 million rubles (about USD 11.5 million) were found. Russia allocated total of 7.295 billion rubles (USD 244 million) in financial aid to Abkhazia in 2009-2010, according to the Russia's state audit agency.

In his article leader of the Abkhaz People's Party said that reasons brought up by Stepashin behind violations were an attempt "to extenuate" financial wrongdoings of "corrupt" Abkhaz officials and thier associates; he described Stepashin's remarks as "delirious". He even suggested that Stepashin could have been personally interested in covering up those wrongdoings.

Lakoba said that Stepashin was providing defense lawyer's services to the Abkhaz authorities. "Paid or not paid - its another issue," he wrote in the article.

He also slammed Stepashin for the remarks in which he criticized the Abkhaz opposition for "stirring up noise" over the Abkhaz government's intention to hand over some resorts in Russian ownership.  Stepashin was also quoted by the Abkhaz sources while speaking about the opposition: "Other comrades will come here from another neighboring country and they will create here an opposition, which will not seem sweet."

Remarks were described by Lakoba as "a political blackmail", demonstrating that Abkhazia "still remains an object... for geopolitical games."

Stepashin's remarks were also criticized by another Abkhaz opposition figure Raul Khajimba, the leader of Forum of Abkhaz People’s Unity. He also described Stepashin's remarks about the Abkhaz opposition as "a blackmail with elements of threat."

Iakub Lakoba's article, which was published five days before the Russian state audit agency's findings were made public, triggered debates in the Abkhaz political circles. Representatives from the pro-governmental United Abkhazia party said the article was directed against Abkhaz-Russian friendly relations. Lakoba's article was also  condemned by an influential union of Abkhaz war veterans Amtsakhara.

After the findings of the Russian state audit agency were made public on January 20, its representative, Sergey Riabukhin said that "some forces" in Abkhazia were trying to use the findings for political aims.

"We deem it inadmissible to involve the Russian State Audit Chamber in the political games, which are totally of destructive nature," Riabukhin was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax.

After the arrest of Lakoba, his party released a brief statement saying that instead of launching criminal proceedings against "corrupt" Abkhaz officials, based on the Russian state audit agency's findings, the authorities initiated case against the opposition figure, who was "objectively commenting" on the results of audit of the financial aid.

Iakub Lakoba was Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh's only contender in repeat presidential elections of January, 2005 in which the latter won a landslide victory. Lakoba received less than 5% of votes.

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