Kezerashvili, 35, was arrested at Nice airport on October 14, 2013 when about to board a flight for Tirana. He was initially remanded in custody, but released on bail on February 3. The French authorities have not yet responded to the Georgian prosecutor’s request for his extradition to Georgia.
Kezerashvili was born in Tbilisi into a Jewish family that moved first to Russia and then, in 1992, to Israel, where he attended high school. He has both Georgian and Israeli citizenship.
Kezerashvili graduated in 1999 from Tbilisi State University and in 2001 joined the staff of the Justice Ministry, which was then headed by Mikheil Saakashvili, whose close associate he became. (He was one of those who accompanied Saakashvili when he burst into the parliament building in November 2003 at the height of the so-called Rose Revolution.) Kezerashvili was named head of the Financial Police in 2004, and defense minister in November 2006.
Analysts questioned Saakashvili’s rationale for selecting Kezerashvili for that post in light of his lack of any relevant experience: Kezerashvili himself told the TV station Rustavi-2 his appointment “was somewhat unexpected.” He was dismissed just two years later in the wake of the disastrous Georgian-Russian war over South Ossetia in August 2008, and reportedly went into business.
Within weeks, the Georgian daily “Rezonansi” reported that the Audit Chamber had begun an audit of the Defense Ministry, but ministry officials denied those reports. Then in March 2010, it was reported that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had launched a probe into the suspected illegal procurement by Georgia of weaponry from Israel in 2008, in which Kezerashvili was implicated.
Kezerashvili is one of several former senior government officials against whom criminal charges were brought following the advent to power in the October 2012 parliamentary election of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition headed by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili. (Others include former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaya, former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, and former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava.)
In January 2013, Kezerashvili was charged with accepting a $12.3 million bribe for having allegedly facilitated the smuggling of ethyl spirit from Ukraine to Georgia between 2007-2012, resulting in losses in customs revenues of 49.4 million laris ($28.6 million). One month later, a further charge of misappropriation of state funds and money laundering was brought against Kezerashvili in connection with the transfer to state control in 2008 of the privately owned Imedi TV channel. The Georgian authorities formally requested his extradition from Israel, without success.
Kezerashvili’s Tbilisi-based lawyer Shota Mindeli has dismissed the charges against his client as politically motivated.