A ruling by the Tbilisi City Court, suspending directly elected mayor of the capital city, Gigi Ugulava, from his office, will have “very grave consequences for the future of Georgia’s democracy,” MP Davit Bakradze, leader of the UNM parliamentary minority group said on Sunday.
Ugulava was suspended from his mayoral office by the court upon a motion by the prosecution, which filed charges against the Tbilisi mayor in connection to alleged misspending of GEL 48.1 million of public funds in 2011-2012.
In a separate motion, which was heard at a public court proceeding, presided by judge Dali Metreveli, late on Saturday night, the court rejected prosecution’s request for a pre-trial detention of Ugulava; the court ordered GEL 50,000 bail to be posted within thirty days.
But few hours after this ruling was delivered, Ugulava says, he was notified by a phone call from judge’s aide at about 1am on Sunday that the court ruled in favor of prosecution’s separate motion requesting his suspension from the office pending trial and final verdict into the charges against him.
The same judge, Dali Metreveli, decided in favor of this motion without hearing oral arguments of the parties.
One of Ugulava’s defense lawyers, Gizo Uglava, said the ruling of the Tbilisi City Court will be appealed to the higher court.
“With this decision taken at 1am behind the closed doors without hearing any oral arguments… the court and the authorities have undertaken a step, which is very controversial from the legal point of view and very grave for the future of this country from the political point of view,” Bakradze said.
“This precedent gives an opportunity to the prosecution to settle score against any elected official,” he said, adding that with this decision the court and the prosecution sent a message to the Tbilisites that “they do not care about Tbilisites’ opinion” expressed in 2010 elections when Ugulava was elected with 55.2% of votes.
He said that the UNM leadership will gather on Sunday to discuss how the party will react to these developments.
Speaking at a meeting with the capital city municipality leadership on Sunday, Gigi Ugulava said that the court’s decision was a result of pressure exerted by the government.
Ugulava said it is regrettable that the court has been “dragged into this dirty game” of the government, which he said, creates “a very bad precedent and weakens democracy.”
Before the court’s decision was announced, Ugulava called on the Tbilisi City Court not to yield to pressure from the government; he also called on the court to hold a public hearing into the prosecution’s motion and allow him and his lawyers to lay out arguments against the motion.
On Sunday Ugulava said that he made those appeals because he knew pressure was exerted on the court. He claimed that head of the Interior Ministry’s internal investigations unit, Zviad Jankarashvili, was personally involved in mounting pressure on the leadership of the Tbilisi City Court.
Ugulava’s first deputy, Sevdia Ugrekhelidze, will assume the role of acting mayor.