Tbilisi City Court has accepted prosecution’s motion and ordered pre-trial detention of ex-mayor of Tbilisi and one of the leaders of UNM opposition party, Gigi Ugulava, who was arrested at the Tbilisi airport on July 3.
Judge Giorgi Goginashvili announced the decision after almost five hours of hearing late on Friday night. Defense lawyers of Ugulava, who is also UNM’s chief of campaign for local elections, said the decision would be appealed to the higher court.
Angered by the court’s decision, some of those UNM supporters and activists who were rallying outside the court building, shouted insults at prosecutors as they emerged from the building escorted by the police after the hearing; chaotic scenes and sporadic scuffles with the police followed. At least four people, including former ambassador to Italy and ex-lawmaker Kote Gabashvili and UNM MP Levan Bezhashvili, were detained by the police. MP Bezhashvili was released later, according to the Interior Ministry, which said that several men were detained for petty hooliganism and disobeying police orders.
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In the beginning of the hearing into prosecution’s request for pre-trial detention of Ugulava, defense lawyers filed a motion asking for recusal of judge Giorgi Goginashvili, who was also presiding over a hearing when pre-trial detention of Ugulava’s brother-in-law Giorgi Goniashvili was heard last month.
Ugulava’s brother-in-law Giorgi Goniashvili, who the prosecution claims acted as a middleman in the money laundering scheme in which Ugulava is now also charged, was arrested in early June and sent by judge Giorgi Goginashvili to pre-trial detention. Arguing that this judge would “not be objective”, Ugulava’s defense lawyers asked for his recusal, but the judge refused to recuse himself.
Prosecutors argued that Ugulava should be held in detention pending trial in order to prevent him from fleeing the country or from otherwise obstructing course of justice. Prosecutors also argued that crimes incriminated against Ugulava have been committed in February, 2014 at the time when he was already under bail in connection to separate unrelated charges.
Ugulava, who denies charges against him as politically motivated, was telling the judge that he had traveled abroad and returned back to Georgia for at least nineteen times since the Georgian Dream came into power and he could have fled the country if he wanted long before he was arrested. “It’s my conscious choice to fight to the end, even if I go to prison,” Ugulava said.
Ugulava was arrested at the Tbilisi airport before boarding a flight to Kiev on the morning of July 3. He had a return ticket for a flight scheduled later same day; he said that he was intending to appear before the Finance Ministry’s investigations service for questioning on the morning of July 4.
On July 2 the Tbilisi City Court declined prosecution’s motion to seize Ugulava’s passport; the court said that there was no need to impose such measure against Ugulava as it saw no threat that he would flee or obstruct course of justice. Ugulava has traveled for number of times abroad and returned back to Georgia since he was first charged in February 2013. He is facing multiple criminal charges and is already standing trial into several separate cases.
Ugulava told the judge on July 4 that with his arrest the authorities “spat in court’s face” – he was referring to the court’s decision against seizing of his passport.
Money loudening charges involve allegation that he received USD 760,000 “black money” from an offshore registered company for funding of UNM’s election campaign.
In connection to Marneuli District Election Commission incident, Ugulava has been charged with articles 150 and 226 of the criminal code, which deal with “coercion” and “organizing actions by a group, which violate public order”.
In February, 2013 Ugulava, who at the time was Tbilisi mayor, was charged with misspending and embezzlement of large amount of public funds and money laundering into two separate cases; trial into those charges is currently underway.
Additional charges were filed against Ugulava in December, 2013; charges involved alleged misspending of GEL 48.18 million (about USD 28.2 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.
UNM leaders have said that the arrest of Ugulava is part of the authorities’ campaign of “political persecution” of the main opposition party.
“They will fail to silence the United National Movement,” Giga Bokeria, one of the UNM leaders said on July 4. “Going down the path of arresting political leaders… is damaging the country; it is creating problems to our European integration… Instead of working for the benefit of the country, they [the authorities]… pursue goal of destroying [UNM] and they want instead to promote [Nino] Burjanadze and [Irma] Inashvili [Alliance of Patriots of Georgia], which creates a huge threat to the country from the security point of view.”