Ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was facing multiple criminal charges and was arrested upon his return back to Georgia in November, was released from a courtroom on January 11.
His release was made possible after Okruashvili was cleared of bribe-taking and extortion charges during a hearing in the Court of Appeals on January 10 and after the Tbilisi City Court accepted on January 11 a motion from prosecutors to release Okruashvili from custody on GEL 15,000 bail in separate case involving charges of negligence while serving as Defense Minister from late 2004 till November, 2006.
Okruashvili was sentenced to eleven years in prison by the lower court in connection to bribery and extortion charges in 2008 and trial into negligence will continue in the Tbilisi City Court next week.
Okruashvili in addition also faces charges related to formation of illegal armed group, brought against him by the previous authorities amid street protest rallies in spring 2011. During a January 9 court hearing several witnesses, who initially testified against Okruashvili into this case, retracted their statements citing that they were coerced into testifying against ex-defense minister. The trial into this case will also continue next week in the Tbilisi City Court.
Okruashvili also faced charges related to several counts of exceeding official powers and money laundering while serving as Defense Minister; but the Prosecutor’s Office dropped those charges too.
After he left the court, Okruashvili told journalists: “I had no doubts about such outcome. But there are still two cases on which the trials are ongoing and are expected to be over next week and I expect similar decisions [of being cleared of charges] in these cases [related to armed group and negligence] too.”
Asked whether he would return back into politics, Okruashvili responded: “Now it’s difficult to speak about it, but let’s see.” He also added that he would convene a news conference for journalists next week.
Okruashvili, who was one of the most influential government members and President Saakashvili’s close ally before quitting the cabinet in November 2006, was arrested just two days after he leveled serious allegations against President Saakashvili and announced about setting up of an opposition party in late September, 2007.
At that time he was charged with large scale extortion; less than two weeks after he was arrested, Okruashvili pleaded guilty, retracted his allegations leveled against Saakashvili and was released on bail; he then left the country in what his supporters said was expulsion by the authorities.
In March, 2008 court in Georgia found Okruashvili guilty of “large-scale extortion” and sentenced him to 11 years in prison in absentia; a month later Okruashvili was granted asylum in France.
While remaining in France, Okruashvili re-emerged actively in Georgia’s political developments in spring 2011 when his party joined briefly ex-parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze-backed street protest rallies but the alliance was short-lived. At the time the authorities filed new charges against Okruashvili related to alleged armed group.