Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, Elmar Brok, said following sentencing of Tbilisi’s ex-mayor and one of UNM opposition party leaders, Gigi Ugulava, that “the situation in Georgia sends an alarming signal.”
A written statement, released jointly by German MEP Brok and Romanian MEP Cristian Dan Preda, both from the group of the European People’s Party (EPP), reads: “The justice system is becoming an effective tool of vengeance against political opponents in the hands of the authorities.”
Tbilisi City Court sentenced Ugulava to 4 years and 6 months in prison after he was found guilty of siphoning off GEL 4.1 million of public funds by creating hundreds of fictitious job positions in the capital city municipal service in late 2009 when he was the mayor through which funds were funneled to pay salaries of UNM party activists. Ugulava denied charges as politically motivated. Ugulava was arrested inside the court building after the judge delivered the verdict into more than 2-year long trial late on Friday night, a day after Ugulava was released from 14-month pretrial detention following winning a landmark Constitutional Court case in which his pretrial detention beyond 9-month limit in connection to a separate trial was ruled as unconstitutional.
“We have received with great shock and sadness the news that former mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava has been again arrested and sentenced to over four years of jail time. This comes just one day after his release following a groundbreaking verdict of the Georgian Constitutional Court,” MEPs Elmar Brok and Cristian Dan Preda said in their statement.
“We remind that the European Parliament when ratifying the Association Agreement with Georgia in December last year strongly called on the authorities to avoid instrumentalisation of the justice system as a tool of political retribution,” reads the statement.
“This is regrettably still happening. Ongoing cases of selective justice are in grave breach of the spirit and the letter of the Association Agreement between Georgia and the European Union. The determination of the Georgian authorities to apply selective justice towards political opponents is detrimental to the country and will harm its European perspective. This must stop now,” it says.
Joseph Daul, the President of the European People’s Party which is a partner of UNM opposition party, said in a statement on September 19 that he is “outraged at the news of Ugulava’s re-arrest only a few hours after being released.”
“The EPP strongly condemns such politically motivated cases and is shocked at the continuous interference of the government in the work of the judiciary. [Georgia’s ex-PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili’s group must understand that the justice system is not a playground without rules,” Daul said. “Georgia’s European perspective has been seriously stained.”