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German Police Hold Wanted Former Georgian Defense Minister

  • Salome Asatiani

http://gdb.rferl.org/190E64D0-EC20-467F-A2E5-B46BD6A1BD78_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/190E64D0-EC20-467F-A2E5-B46BD6A1BD78_mw800_mh600.jpg Irakli Okruashvili (InterPressNews) November 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Authorities in Berlin have detained former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili after Tbilisi issued a request for his arrest through the international police agency Interpol.


Okruashvili, a former ally turned fierce critic of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, was arrested on corruption charges in Tbilisi in September. He was quickly released on bail and allowed to travel to Germany. Okruashvili's lawyer says the latest detention is politically motivated, and claims she has the documents to prove it.


Okruashvili has been making headlines since his sensational televised allegation two months ago that Saakashvili had plotted the murder of a political opponent.


Okruashvili's arrest on corruption charges swiftly followed; later, after publicly recanting his claims against Saakashvili, he was released on $6 million in bail and was allowed to leave Georgia for Germany.


Now, in the latest twist, Okruashvili once again finds himself in police custody after being detained on November 27 by German authorities at a Berlin hotel.


Michael Grunwald, a spokesman for the city prosecutor's office, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that Okruashvili was arrested on the basis of an application filed by Georgian authorities and distributed through Interpol.


"Georgia is part of the European Convention on Extradition, and therefore, it is able to utilize this official procedure," Grunwald said.


The detention appears to stem from a Georgian court order on November 14 that Okruashvili appear before prosecutors to face further questioning on his previous charges of corruption, money laundering, and abuse of office.


Another Georgian ex-official, Iason Chikhladze, was also arrested in Berlin. Chikhladze served as the head of the Georgian Defense Ministry's procurement department during Okruashvili's time as minister.


According to Grunwald, German authorities are now going to examine charges put forward by the Georgian side, and will decide whether or not Okruashvili will be extradited to Georgia. Georgia has 40 days to deliver documents necessary to the case.


"This procedure is outlined in detail. Simply said, first, the charges put forward by the Georgian side will be examined to determine whether they are substantiated. If this proves to be the case, the next step is to decide whether German criminal code considers the action in question as a crime. That's all," Grunwald said.


The details of the case, however, are far from simple. Many see Okruashvili's original arrest as payback for his public accusations against Saakashvili. Members of the Georgian government claim Okruashvili made the allegations as a preemptive move knowing he was soon to be arrested.


But Okruashvili's Georgian lawyer, Eka Beselia, claims she can prove her client is being persecuted for political reasons.


"It's really important to say that I have in my possession all the documents involved in Okruashvili's [case] that prove that his arrest was due not to criminal charges but for political reasons," Beselia said. "And I would really like to be able to provide these documents to those lawyers who are protecting his interests at the moment [in Germany]."


Beselia says she has already spoken to a German attorney.


The latest development in the Okruashvili case comes as Georgia's political community continues to recover from weeklong opposition protests that forced Saakashvili to call an early presidential election on January 5.


Speaking at the time, Okruashvili told The Associated Press that the early date and other forms of political pressure would virtually ensure Saakashvili's victory.


"There will not be a competitive environment, and he will have a 100 percent chance to keep power," he said.


(RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this story.)

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