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Former Georgian Prime Minister Jailed For Two Months


Former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili (right) attends a preliminary hearing of his case at the court in Kutaisi on May 22.
Former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili (right) attends a preliminary hearing of his case at the court in Kutaisi on May 22.
KUTAISI, Georgia -- A former prime minister of Georgia has been ordered to be held in jail for two months until his trial on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office.

The decision by the court in the city of Kutaisi on May 22 came a day after Vano Merabishvili was arrested along with former Health Minister Zurab Chiaberashvili.

Chiaberashvili was allowed to go free on bail of 20,000 lari ($13,000).

Merabishvili and Chiaberashvili allegedly put more than 22,000 party activists on the labor ministry's payroll. Both men are allies of President Mikheil Saakashvili, who denounced the cases as politically driven.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top foreign affairs official, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele called on Georgian officials to ensure the cases against Merabishvili and Chiaberashvili are pursued without political influence.

Merabishvili, who is the secretary-general of Saakhashvili's United National Movement party, and Chiaberashvili, who is currently the governor of the eastern province of Kakheti, were detained on May 21 and charged with embezzlement and corruption.

Zurab Chiaberashvili
Zurab Chiaberashvili
The two have pleaded not guilty.

Saakashvili condemned his associates' arrest, calling the cases "political retaliation" and comparing them to the jailing in Ukraine of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko is now serving a seven-year jail term for abuse of office in what supporters and many in the West say is a politically motivated case initiated by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has rejected allegations the arrests were politically motivated.

Saakashvili warned that the arrests could jeopardize Georgia's foreign relations.

"You know that, in Ukraine, the former prime minister was arrested based on much more serious charges than the ones made against Merabishvili," he said.

"Since then, what kind of situation is Ukraine facing? The integration process with the European Union is frozen. For two years this country has not seen any progress with regard to the European Union or NATO. It has problems in its bilateral relations with every leading European country and the United States."

Dozens of former officials, including a former interior minister, have been arrested since Ivanishvili led an opposition coalition to election victory over Saakashvili's long-ruling party last October.

With reporting by AP and AFP