Ex-Mayor of Tbilisi Released from Prison
Gigi Ugulava, former mayor of Tbilisi and one of the leaders of Georgia’s opposition United National Movement (UNM), was released from prison on January 6th on the basis of a verdict by the Tbilisi Appellate Court. Ugulava had been charged with misspending in 2014.
The court, taking into account the country’s amnesty law, sentenced the former Mayor to one year, nine months and 22 days of jail time for abuse of power in the 2014 Tbilservice Group Case. As Ugulava had already served the term, he was immediately freed from prison.
In the year from 2010 to 2011, Ugulava allegedly embezzled more than four million GEL of public funds. The money he embezzled was used to create 800 fictitious job positions within the municipal service Tbilservice Group, through which funds were allegedly used to pay the salaries of then-ruling UNM party members.
Ugulava was initially arrested in July 2014 for the misappropriation of funds and embezzlement. He was sentenced to seven month pre-trial detention. After this, in September 2015, he was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. This prison term was commuted to four years and six months.
On January 4th, the Appellate Court re-qualified the article and Ugulava’s sentence was shortened by three years and three months.
“I was the leader and thus everything was my responsibility, good or bad. Of course, I had no intention to turn it in a political direction, but that’s how it turned out. It would be wrong to blame me for embezzlement and appropriation of funds,” Ugulava said in his concluding speech at the court.
Following his release, the ex-Mayor held a meeting with UNM members and said he was planning to meet the founder and former leader of the UNM, Georgia’s ex-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is wanted in Georgia for several charges. As Saakashvili is now a Ukrainian citizen, Ugulava said he was ready to meet the ex-president in Ukraine in order to discuss internal party affairs following recent leadership changes.
Saakashvili, who now is a part of the opposition in Ukraine, welcomed Ugulava’s release with a statement on his Facebook page.
“Gigi has not committed a crime, nor has he done anything wrong… this imprisonment was nothing but the oligarch’s personal revenge and part of an intimidation campaign,” Saakashvili wrote in his Facebook post, referring to the ex-Prime Minister and founder of the ruling party-Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is considered by the opposition as the informal ruler of the country.
Vice Prime Minister of Georgia, Kakha Kaladze, says that Ugulava will still have to answer questions pertaining to his use of government funds despite his recent release from prison.
“The court is absolutely independent and it makes independent decisions. However, regarding Ugulava, I have information that there are some questions over specific cases which he will have to account for,” Kaladze said.
The state prosecutor’s office disapproved of the court verdict and said that it would appeal the decision.
The US Embassy to Georgia has released a statement regarding the case, which says that the right to a decision was an important part of any democratic judicial system.
“The court of appeals assessed the evidence and enabled the parties to present their legal arguments. These steps are a clear example of the fact that the judicial system has the opportunity to be independent, which is an integral part of any healthy democratic system,” the US embassy said, adding that the judiciary must be free from political pressure.
By Thea Morrison