Criminal charges in one of the multiple cases against ex-mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava have been re-qualified making them graver, paving the way for the prosecution to seek from the court extension of opposition politician’s pre-trial detention, his defense lawyer said on Saturday.
Prosecutor’s office has confirmed that charges against Ugulava in the case stemming from 2007 events involving alleged illegal seizure of some assets owned at the time by tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died in 2008, were re-qualified. Prosecutor’s office, however, refused to say whether it would ask or not the court pre-trial detention for Ugulava in this case.
Ugulava, one of the senior figures in opposition UNM party, is already in a pre-trial detention since early July, 2014 in connection to separate, unrelated case involving money laundering charges.
Nine months, which is a maximum term for pre-trial detention in a single case, expires in early April after which Ugulava has to be released pending the court verdict into charges against him. But if the prosecution seeks a new pre-trial detention after re-qualification of charges in a separate case and the court rules positively, Ugulava will remain in custody.
Politicians from opposition UNM party have been suggesting in recent weeks that the prosecutor’s office was going to resort to this method to keep Ugulava behind bars.
Similar tactic was used by the prosecution against ex-defense minister and former prison chief Bacho Akhalaia, who was arrested in November 2012 and whose pre-trial detention was extended for several times by gradually adding new charges against him before he was sentenced to 7.5 years in jail in October, 2014.
“Content of the charges actually remains the same, but they [prosecutors] made charges graver, which has only one purpose – to ask the court to keep Ugulava in prison,” Ugulava’s defense lawyer, Beka Basilaia, told journalists on Saturday.
In a letter to Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili, dated March 9, chairman of the group of European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, MEP Manfred Weber, said that “bringing new charges against a major political figure solely aimed at keeping him in detention will be viewed as proof of politically-motivated prosecution and will continue to be destructive for Georgia’s international image.”
Ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili; ex-interior minister Vano Merabishvili and ex-defense minister Davit Kezerashvili are also facing criminal charges in the same case related to 2007 events – ranging from break up of anti-government protests on November 7 to raiding and seizing of Imedi TV and other assets held by Patarkatsishvili at the time. Court ordered Saakashvili’s pre-trial detention in absentia in August, 2014.