The U.S. embassy in Georgia said re-qualified criminal charges against former mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, “appear to be an effort to subvert the nine-month limit on pre-trial detention”, which in Ugulava’s case will expire early next month.
“We are concerned by the announcement of additional or re-qualified charges being filed against members of the former government. These additional charges, against former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava in particular, appear to be an effort to subvert the nine-month limit on pre-trial detention,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.
“We encourage the government of Georgia to take steps to strengthen the Rule of Law and avoid any perception it may be engaging in a campaign of politically-motivated justice,” it said.
Prosecutor’s office said on March 14 that it re-qualified criminal charges in one of the multiple cases against Ugulava making them graver. The move made it possible for the prosecution to to seek from the court extension of Ugulava’s pre-trial detention. These charges stem from events of 2007 involving alleged illegal seizure of some assets owned at the time by tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died in 2008.
Tbilisi City Court hears prosecution’s motion for additional pre-trial detention for Ugulava on March 15.
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 money laundering charges against him.
But if the Tbilisi City Court rules positively on prosecution’s motion for pre-trial detention after re-qualification of charges in the case stemming for 2007 events, Ugulava will remain in custody.
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.
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. Charges of these former officials have also been either re-qualified or otherwise re-formulated on March 14.