Tbilisi City Court accepted prosecution’s motion and ordered pre-trial detention of former President Mikheil Saakashvili in absentia.
Preliminary court hearing – the stage when a presiding judge, among other issues, decides on the admissibility of evidence submitted by the parties – has been set for September 22.
Prosecutor’s office has charged Saakashvili with exceeding official powers in connection to break up of the anti-government protest rallies on November 7, 2007, and raid on and “seizure” of Imedi TV station.
“Ahead of the August war [six-year] anniversary Putin could not have imagined more desirable present than Georgian authorities ordering my arrest,” Saakashvili said in a video address from the U.S., released on August 1 before the court’s ruling was announced after midnight on Saturday.
“This will be one of the most shameful pages of Georgia’s history,” he said.
“I am not going to turn up upon summoning of prosecutor’s office, controlled by Gazprom shareholder [referring to Georgia’s ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili] – I will be very far whenever they summon me, but I will be very close when the Georgian people call me,” Saakashvili said.
Judge Spartak Pavliashvili, who was transferred to the Tbilisi City Court from Tetritskaro court month ago, also accepted prosecution’s motion for pre-trial detention in absentia of Zurab Adeishvili, who was chief prosecutor in 2007 and Davit Kezerasvhili, then defense minister, who are co-accused in the same case.
Kezerashvili is already wanted in Georgia for other, unrelated criminal charges, but court in France declined Georgia’s request to extradite him. Adeishvili, who reportedly received asylum in Hungary, is also wanted by Georgia for number of other criminal charges.
Others who have also been charged in the same case are Vano Merabishvili, who was interior minister in 2007 and Gigi Ugulava, who at the time was Tbilisi mayor. Merabishvili, who is now jailed, was sentenced by the court to prison terms in two separate trials, one of them related to exceeding official powers in case involving break up of protest rally in Tbilisi in May, 2011. Ugulava is now in pre-trial detention pending trial in money laundering charges; he is already standing trial in number of other criminal charges, one of them related to Imedi TV.
Defense lawyers said that they would take the ruling to the Court of Appeals.
During the hearing, which started on Friday evening in a half-empty courtroom, one of the prosecutors Irakli Nadareishvili said that Mikheil Saakashvili has been repeatedly avoiding to cooperate in investigation and the prosecution was left with no other option than to ask for his pre-trial detention in absentia. Saakashvili was first summoned by prosecutor’s office for questioning in March and also offered interrogation via video link; he was then again summoned for questioning less than two days before criminal charges were filed against him on July 28.
Prosecutor argued that Saakashvili possesses both financial means and influence to exert pressure on witnesses. He also claimed that Saakashvili and other co-accused former high-ranking officials who remain at large, Adeishvili and Kezerashvili, “acted in concert” in committing the crime incriminated against them and there is a risk that they will continue coordination with each other to exert influence on or conspire with witnesses with the purpose of obstructing investigation.
Saakashvili’s defense lawyer, Otar Kakhidze, who also acts as Adeishvili’s lawyer, argued that charges against his clients are purely politically motivated and represent part of, what he called, ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s declared goal to destroy the opposition United National Movement party. He was also citing statements of Georgia’s Western partners expressing concerns over bringing criminal charges against Saakashvili.
Defense lawyers also claimed that the case is mainly built on a witness testimony of Nino Burjanadze, who was parliamentary chairperson in 2007. But prosecutors said that there were several direct witnesses other than Burjanadze in the case, among them Zaza Gogava, who was army chief of staff in 2007. Among the allegations leveled against Saakashvili is unlawful deployment of army troops in Tbilisi center on November 7, 2007 while riot police was breaking up protesters.
In his video address on August 1, Saakashvili said that those behind his prosecution would share Ukraine ex-president Viktor Yanukovych’s fate. H also said that wants a team of legal experts to be established, which would “document actions of not only of those who issued orders, but also of all the judges and prosecutors.”
“We should not need it for revenge, but we should recall that certain legal actions were taken against those in Ukraine who illegally arrested [Ukraine’s former interior minister Yuriy] Lutsenko and [former PM Yulia] Tymoshenko. Georgia will need these materials in the future,” Saakashvili said.