Ex-mayor of Tbilisi and one of the UNM leaders, Gigi Ugulava, has been arrested on money laundering charges, Finance Ministry’s investigations service said about six hours after Ugulava was arrested at the Tbilisi airport early on Thursday morning.
Finance Ministry’s investigations service said that Ugulava was arrested over a scheme through which he was receiving “black money” from an offshore registered company affiliated to ex-defense minister Davit Kezerashvili; the latter is wanted by Tbilisi over separate charges, but the court in France ruled against his extradition to Georgia in February, 2014.
The investigations service claimed that USD 760,000 was laundered in the scheme which then was used by Ugulava to fund UNM opposition party’s campaign.
Ugulava’s brother-in-law Giorgi Goniashvili, who the prosecution claims acted as a middleman in the scheme, was arrested in early June and sent to pre-trial detention.
Ugulava, who is UNM opposition party’s campaign chief for the local elections, which went into second round runoffs, including Tbilisi mayoral race, in number of constituencies, was arrested on July 3 at the Tbilisi airport before taking flight to Kiev scheduled for 6:50am local time.
After arriving at the airport and before he was handcuffed by law enforcement officers, Ugulava told journalists that he was planning to return back to Georgia later on the same day, July 3, as he was going to appear at the Finance Ministry’s investigations service on the morning of July 4 where he was summoned for questioning.
The arrest came about 12 hours after the Tbilisi City Court turned down prosecution’s motion seeking seizure of Ugulava’s passport to prevent him from traveling abroad.
The motion was made in connection to other criminal charges filed against him on June 30 involving allegations of misspending public funds through abuse of office while serving as Tbilisi mayor.
The Tbilisi City Court said on July 2 that the prosecution failed to justify need for ordering preventive measures against Ugulava including seizure of his passport. The court said that there was no need to impose any measure against Ugulava as it saw no threat that he would flee or obstruct course of justice.
Ugulava has traveled for number of times abroad and returned back to Georgia since he was first charged in February 2013. He is facing multiple criminal charges and is already standing trial into several separate cases.
Ugulava told journalists after he was handcuffed at the airport that he was arrested “because I have not bowed my head before Ivanishvili.”
UNM said in a statement that the arrest of its campaign chief ahead of the second round runoffs of the local elections, including for the Tbilisi mayoral office, aims at “incapacitation of Georgia’s main opposition party.”
UNM also said that the arrest “marks deepening of the government’s agenda of political retribution and persecution of the opposition.” It said that Ugulava’s detention “is a personal decision of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili [ex-prime minister] who remains main decision maker of the Georgian government despite not holding any formal office.”
In February, 2013 Ugulava, who at the time was Tbilisi mayor, was charged with misspending and embezzlement of large amount of public funds and money laundering into two separate cases; trial into those charges is currently underway.
Additional charges were filed against Ugulava in December, 2013; charges involved alleged misspending of GEL 48.18 million (about USD 28.2 million) of public money in 2011-2012. In connection to these charges court turned down prosecution’s motion for Ugulava’s pre-trial detention, but ruled in favor of a request to suspend Ugulava from Tbilisi mayor’s office. In May, 2014 the Constitutional Court ruled that Ugulava’s suspension from office was unconstitutional.