Ex-mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, was released from 14-month pretrial detention late on Thursday night, a day after the Constitutional Court ruled that keeping an accused person in detention beyond 9-month limitation is unconstitutional.
Ugulava was freed from a courtroom after a motion by his defense lawyers was heard by a three-judge panel of the Tbilisi City Court – a proceeding, which was viewed largely as a formality, because, according to legal experts, the court had no other option but to take decision in line with the Constitutional Court ruling and release Ugulava. But the hearing lasted for almost five hours two of which were allocated for prosecutors, who requested time to study the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
Courtroom, packed with Ugulava’s supporters, erupted in applause as the presiding judge was announcing decision; his and UNM opposition party supporters were also gathered outside the court building, who met the ex-mayor with chanting his name.
Ugulava, who is one of the leaders of the UNM party, said shortly after he was released that the defeat of the Georgian Dream ruling coalition in the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 2016, is “inevitable.”
“They have billions in their hands, they have power in their hands, but they will have a defeat in their hands too; I promise it to them and it will happen very soon,” Ugulava said.
“Elections are coming. We will win early elections, if there are early elections; we will win the elections if they are in October 2016 [as scheduled]. We will win anyway even if they don’t change the electoral system. Their defeat is inevitable. Our victory and the victory of all the pro-European forces is inevitable,” he said.
“[Bidzina] Ivanishvili does not care about anything except of maintaining power,” Ugulava said, referring to ex-Prime Minister. “We will go to elections; important is to reach elections calmly and peacefully and we will see this man [Ivanishvili] off and put an end to nightmare brought by him upon the country… I hold no grudge, because I do not want to be like Ivanishvili, who is driven only by grudge.”
Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now governor of Odessa region in Ukraine and formally also remains chairman of UNM party, welcomed Ugulava’s release through posts on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“I welcome release of innocent Gigi Ugulava, the end of 14-month absurd and the beginning of the end of Russian oligarch’s regime,” Saakashvili wrote, using a term – “Russian oligarch”, which UNM politicians usually use in reference to ex-PM Ivanishvili.
Speaking to Rustavi 2 TV shortly after being released, Ugulava also said that he considers more than 14 months that he had to spend in pre-trial detention as a “gain” and “not as a waste of time.”
“It was an opportunity for me to test myself and to look at life from other side… This is a huge experience for me,” he said.
“If he [Ivanishvili] again gives me such an opportunity, he will of course have to pay a political price,” Ugulava added.
He was alluding to a possibility of being re-arrested. Ugulava is facing multiple criminal charges in several separate cases, which he denies as politically motivated. Trials in those cases are still ongoing and one of them is already in its final phase; if he is found guilty and convicted, Ugulava will be arrested to serve a prison term.
First set of criminal charges against Ugulava were filed in February, 2013 – at the time he was Tbilisi mayor; charges involved alleged misspending and embezzlement of large amount of public funds and money laundering into two separate cases.
Additional charges were filed against Ugulava in December, 2013 involving alleged misspending of GEL 48.18 million of public money in 2011-2012. In connection to these charges court at the time 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.
Separate set of criminal charges were filed against him in July, 2014, when Ugulava was chief of UNM’s campaign for local elections. Charges involved alleged money laundering scheme through which, the prosecution claims, he was financing UNM’s election campaign. The court ordered his pre-trial detention in connection to this case.
Ugulava was in pre-trial detention, when in July, 2014 prosecutorsfiled new set of charges involving exceeding of official authorities, stemming from breaking up of the November 7, 2007 anti-government protests, as well as raid on and “seizure” of Imedi TV station and other assets owned at the time by tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died in February, 2008. Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and some other former senior officials were also charged in connection to the same case.
When the original 9-month pre-trial detention for Ugulava was nearing its end and he was about to be released, prosecutors re-qualified in March, 2015 one of the criminal charges against him, which gave the prosecution ground for asking the court to remand the ex-mayor in custody.
Although the Georgian constitution explicitly says that the term of pre-trial detention of an accused should not exceed 9 months, one of the clauses in the criminal procedure code, which was adopted in 2010 when the UNM was in power, was allowing detention beyond 9-month limitation if new set of charges were filed against the same person.
When in March, 2015 Ugulava’s pre-trial detention was extended beyond 9 months, he denounced it at a court hearing as a “rape of the constitution”.
In late April his lawyers took the case to the Constitutional Court, which ruled on September 16 that holding of an accused person in pre-trial detention beyond 9-month limitation is unconstitutional.