Georgian opposition leader jailed for misusing public funds

Georgian opposition leader jailed for misusing public funds

Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of the opposition United National Movement
FILE PHOTO: Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of the Georgian opposition United National Movement. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

TBILISI: Georgian opposition leader Gigi Ugulava was sentenced on Monday (Feb 10) to 38 months in jail on charges of misusing public funds while mayor of Tbilisi, his second conviction on similar charges, in a case the opposition says is politically motivated.

Several criminal cases have been opened against opposition leaders amid mass protests against the government and Bidzina Ivanishvili's ruling Georgian Dream party that began last summer, and several arrests have been made.

Ugulava was first imprisoned for a similar offence in September 2015, for four-and-a-half years, but was freed in January 2017 after his sentence was reduced.

A year later, Ugulava, mayor of Tbilisi from 2005-2013 and now one of Georgia's most active opposition leaders, was sentenced again, to 15 months in prison, in the same case, but his sentence was considered to have been served.

Monday's Supreme Court verdict is for a new case of alleged misuse of funds, and the jail time he has already served will not count against it.

"This is a shameful decision made by the Ivanishvili regime," Tina Bokuchava, a leader the opposition United National Movement, told reporters.

Critics accuse Ivanishvili, a business tycoon and leader of Georgian Dream, of running the country from behind the scenes.

Ugulava, one of the leaders of the European Georgian Party, said he had not pleaded guilty and the verdict was a "legal farce".

"The fact is that the path chosen by the opposition frightens Ivanishvili," he told reporters before going to prison.

Dozens of ex-officials including an ex-prime minister have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power and corruption since Georgian Dream came to power in 2012 after defeating then-president Mikheil Saakashvili's party in an election.

Western countries have expressed concerns that the government of the former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people has used selective justice to persecute political opponents, an allegation that officials deny.

Opposition parties are demanding a reform of the electoral system reform before a parliamentary election in October.

Source: Reuters