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Okruashvili Arrested for Alleged Extortion, Money Laundering
/ 27 Sep.'07 / 21:35
Civil Georgia

Irakli Okruashvili, who was arrested late on September 27, is suspected of extortion, money laundering, misuse of power and criminal negligence, Nika Gvaramia, the deputy general prosecutor, said.

Eka Beselia, who is Okruashvili’s lawyer and a party member, was given access to Okruashvili after the arrest.

“He says he is innocent,” Beselia told reporters. “He also said he was a political prisoner.”

The charges involve at least three separate episodes, Gvaramia said.

Last October, Gvaramia said, Okruashvili and his accomplices extorted 2.6% of shares in mobile operator company Geocell from ex-lawmaker and businessman, Jemal Svanidze.

President Saakashvili’s spokesperson, Dimitri Kitoshvili, who was also Okruashvili’s associate, was arrested on September 25 on the same charges. Gvaramia said that Kitoshvili had already given testimony against Okruashvili.

“This [Okruashvili’s involvement in the extortion] has been confirmed by the testimony of Dimitri Kitoshvili,” Gvaramia said.

In January 2005, Gvaramia said, Okruashvili, who was at that time the defense minister, suggested to his close friend, businessman Kibar Khalvashi, that he set up a construction company, International Building Company. The company eventually became “the exclusive contractor” for the Defense Ministry in all its construction projects.

“A total of three contracts worth GEL 140 million were signed between the Defense Ministry and the International Building Company,” Gvaramia said.

The third episode, Gvaramia said, involved the purchase of Okruashvili's party headquarters in downtown Tbilisi in May 2007. The party declared that it was worth USD 250,000, instead of the revenue department's estimate of USD 1.8 million. Okruashvili, it is alleged, was subsequently able to “launder money” as a result.

Gvaramia also said that an investigation is ongoing into alleged financial wrongdoings in the Ministry of Defense. “The case involves financial wrongdoing, including the misappropriation of tens of millions of Lari,” he added.

Gvaramia confirmed that the General Prosecutor’s Office would ask the courts to hold Okruashvili for two months' pre-trial detention, pending investigation.

Okruashvili, an ex-defense minister, was arrested in his newlly set up party headqourters in downtown Tbilisi.

“A group of men from the criminal police came into the party headquarters and took Irakli Okruashvili without giving any explanation,” Tamar Rukhadze, Okruashvili's party spokesperson, told Civil.Ge.
 
“The police smashed down the door and broke in without giving any explanation,” Nana Lezhava, a former journalist and member of Okruashvili's party, said.

“With this act President Saakashvili has actually confirmed that the allegations levelled by Okruashvili were true,” Kakha Kukava, a lawmaker from the opposition Conservative Party, said.

“The criminal, murderer president and the government has unleashed massive repression,” lawmaker Koka Guntsadze, also a member of Okruashvili’s party, said. “We will establish a resistance movement.”

President Saakashvili, whom Okruashvili two days ago accused of “ordering murder,” has made no comment on the affair. He is currently visiting New York where he addressed the UN General Assembly on September 26. After New York, Saakashvili will visit Greece.

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