As part of its efforts to bring former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to trial on charges of exceeding his authority and misuse of public funds, the Georgian Prosecutor-General’s Office has impounded property belonging to Saakashvili, his wife, and his mother.
The stated rationale for doing so, according to a statement released by the Prosecutor-General’s Office on September 19, was that since the former president refuses to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, there is a “justified assumption” that he might conceal his assets in order to plead inability, in the event that he was brought to trial and found guilty, to reimburse the financial damages inflicted on the state.
Saakashvili and his lawyer have criticized that move as “absurd,” “unfounded,” and politically motivated.
The charge against Saakashvili of misspending some 8.83 million laris ($5.1 million) between November 2009 and February 2013 was announced in mid-August. It is based on classified documents made public in April 2013 by a parliamentarian from the majority Georgian Dream coalition that trounced Saakashvili’s United National Movement (ENM) in the October 2012 parliamentary elections.
The documents in question, some handwritten, appear to show receipts for visits by Saakashvili to European spas and to a resort hotel in Thailand; school fees for Saakashvili’s two sons; 53,283 laris for 10 wristwatches; and 49,499 laris for a cashmere overcoat and seven jackets purchased in London. All those expenses were reportedly charged to the Special State Protection Service, tasked with providing security for the president and other senior officials. Bank accounts belonging to Teymuraz Janashia, the former head of that agency, were frozen earlier this week.
Shortly after the misspending charge was made public, Saakashvili reportedly tried unsuccessfully to post the items of clothing in question back to the state chancellery in Tbilisi.
Saakashvili thus currently faces three separate sets of criminal charges.
The first, of exceeding his authority, were filed in late July. They relate to the use of excessive force, allegedly on Saakashvili’s orders, to break up antigovernment demonstrations in Tbilisi in November 2007 and the subsequent trashing of the premises of the independent TV station Imedi that had criticized the government’s actions.
The second, made public on August 5, focus on Saakashvili’s alleged involvement in an attack by armed masked men in July 2005 on businessman and opposition parliamentarian Valery Gelashvili.
On the basis of those charges, the Prosecutor-General’s Office issued a warrant for Saakashvili’s arrest should he set foot on Georgian territory and formally requested Interpol to issue a “red notice” for his arrest and extradition. No such notice has been issued to date.
In a recent interview with "The New York Times," Saakashvili again characterized all attempts to bring him to trial as a political witch hunt launched at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream coalition, who served from October 2012 until November 2013 as Georgian prime minister. Saakashvili had earlier commented in connection with the misspending charges that the Georgian authorities’ “thirst for revenge and their rush to please their Russian friends have no limit...Nothing seems to be able to prevent Georgian Dream leaders from tarnishing the reputation of our country.”
Whether Saakashvili’s current significance as a symbol of opposition to Russian encroachment on Ukraine is so great that Putin should feel compelled to undermine it by seeking to discredit and humiliate him is an open question. On the other hand, if Saakashvili is innocent, why does he not at least submit to questioning by video link in order to demonstrate that fact, even if fears he would not receive a fair trial deter him from returning to Tbilisi?
His failure to do so suggests that he cares less about demonstrating his innocence than about seeking to portray the current Georgian leadership in the worst possible light and possibly goading it into taking measures that the international community would condemn in far harsher terms than the expressions of concern in response to the charges against him. The current government does not give the impression of being vindictive, incompetent, or stupid.
The prosecutor must know the risks involved in bringing criminal charges against Saakashvili that can be shown to be based on fabricated or even incomplete evidence. It is, therefore, logical to assume that Saakashvili would not have been charged if there was not solid factual evidence to substantiate those charges -- especially given that the Georgian authorities consulted with three prominent and respected international experts before doing so. The materials relating to the first set of charges alone reportedly run to 80 volumes.
Senior Georgian officials, for their part, continue to deny any political motivation behind the efforts to bring Saakashvili to trial. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili issued a statement in connection with Saakashvili’s suspected misuse of budget funds explaining, as he had done on previous occasions, that his government received a mandate from the electorate to create a system in which all citizens are equal before the law and will be held accountable for any crimes they commit, and that no one is above the law.
Alluding to miscarriages of justice during the ENM’s decade in power, Garibashvili stressed that "the Georgian people want to put an end once and for all to the impunity which reigned in our country for years."
-- Liz Fuller