At least twenty three Tbilisi municipality officials, including two UNM members of the capital’s City Council (Sakrebulo) were detained by the Finance Ministry’s investigations unit on Thursday morning and then released in what the UNM said was a campaign of pressure on opposition.
Tbilisi Mayor's office said that among those who were detained at various locations this morning were two deputies of Tbilisi Mayor, Davit Alavidze and Davit Ninidze; heads of capital city’s two districts and some of their deputies, as well as head of the procurements service in the Mayor’s Office and head of the Tbilisi Development Fund at the capital city’s municipality. Two UNM member of the Tbilisi Sakrebulo, who were detained and then released, were Vakho Tsagareishvili and Mamuka Akhvlediani.
The Finance Ministry’s investigations unit said that employees and officials of the Tbilisi municipality were “summoned for questioning as witnesses” into ongoing investigation related to “misspending/embezzlement of the municipality’s budgetary funds.” It said that after the questioning municipal officials left the Finance Ministry’s investigations unit headquarters.
But some of the Tbilisi municipal officials said that they were handcuffed and initially told that they were arrested. UNM member of Tbilisi Sakrebulo, Mamuka Akhvlediani, told said that he was handcuffed, put in a car and after driving around Tbilisi streets for about 30-40 minutes he was told by plainclothes officers that it was a misunderstanding; they apologized and let him go, according to Akhvlediani.
Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, who is one of the leaders of President Saakashvili’s UNM party, said that the Finance Ministry’s investigations unit had to release detainees and portray rounding up of municipal officials and Sakrebulo members as “questioning” only after he had “rather bitter conversation” with some of the top officials from the government.
Ugulava also said that the government apparently decided to release detainees in order to avoid a scandal while a high-level NATO delegation, including its Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is visiting Georgia.
While municipal officials were still held by the Finance Ministry’s investigations unit, UNM parliamentary minority leader, Davit Bakradze, said that “such a large-scale attack on the opposition is a very negative sign, especially when the NATO Secretary General visits the country and when our friends from NATO stress on the need of democracy.”
“We hope this problem will be resolved, otherwise we will have to take very serious decisions, including in respect of the [October presidential] elections, because what is now happening is actually a direct attack on [UNM] party infrastructure with the aim to destroy it,” Bakradze said.
Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, said that a complaint would be filed with the prosecutor’s office to investigate “illegal arrest” of the municipality officials.