Irakli Okruashvili, former defense minister who was in exile since late 2007 and who faces multiple criminal charges in Georgia, was arrested upon arrival in the Tbilisi airport, the Georgian Interior Ministry said on November 20.
Okruashvili, who was one of the most influential government members and President Saakashvili’s close ally before quitting the cabinet in November 2006, was arrested just two days after he leveled serious allegations against President Saakashvili and announced about setting up of an opposition party in late September, 2007.
At that time he was charged with large scale extortion; less than two weeks after he was arrested, Okruashvili pleaded guilty, retracted his allegations leveled against Saakashvili and was released on bail; he then left the country in what his supporters said was expulsion by the authorities.
While remaining in France, Okruashvili re-emerged actively in Georgia’s political developments in spring 2011 when his party joined briefly ex-parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze-backed street protest rallies but the alliance was short-lived. At the time the authorities filed new charges against Okruashvili related to alleged armed group.
Hours before Okruashvili’s arrival to Georgia, the parliamentary committee for human rights passed a draft resolution recognizing 184 persons as “political prisoners” and 22 others as being “in political exile”; Okruashvili is among those 22 persons. The draft resolution, after it will be passed by the parliament, will allow those in the list to return back to Georgia without being arrested and to prove their case before the court.
Georgian Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, said on November 20, that she shared the view that Okruashvili “was subjected to politically-motivated persecution by the [previous] authorities.”
“But it does not automatically mean that he is innocent in those criminal charges that he may face; it requires investigation,” Tsulukiani told journalists. “There are number of criminal charges brought against him and the most recent one is related to setting up of illegal armed groups and that is related to the events of May, 2011 [during street protest rallies]. It requires further probe and I think that Okruashvili returned in order to prove his truth.”
Court hearing into Okruashvili’s case related to alleged illegal armed group is scheduled for late afternoon on November 20.
Okruashvili told Georgian news agency, InterPressNews, whose reporter visited ex-defense minister in prison facility on November 20, that although knowing that he would be arrested, he still returned in order to prove his innocence in the court. He said that all the charges against him were fabricated by the previous authorities.