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article imageGeorgian prosecutors summon ex-president Saakashvili

By AFP     Mar 22, 2014 in World

Prosecutors in Georgia on Saturday said they have summoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili for questioning over a raft of criminal cases.

Saakashvili has been told to appear on Thursday in connection with 10 cases, including a possible probe into the 2005 death of former prime minister and his close ally Zurab Zhvania, a statement from the prosecutor's office said.

Some of the other cases relate to a police raid on an independent broadcaster, the alleged misappropriation of funds by the state security service and the illegal seizure of assets.

Staunch US-ally Saakashvili, a flamboyant reformer, ruled Georgia for around a decade until he left office at the end of his second and final term in power in November when an ally of his arch-foe billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili was elected to replace him.

Saakashvili allies dismissed the announcement as the latest step in a political witch hunt against the former leader and said that authorities in Tbilisi were trying to stop his high-profile support for new pro-Western authorities in Ukraine in its struggle against Russia.

"These events are directly related to the president's activities, especially over Ukraine, and the aim is to make them stop for the benefit of Putin," Giorgi Vashadze, a lawmaker from Saakashvili's party, said in televised comments.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said Saakashvili faced legitimate questions over his time in power and that prosecutors could declare him a wanted person if he fails to show up for questioning.

"If he will appear or not is a different matter but for me he has to if he has any common sense left," Garibashvili told a local newspaper.

Dozens of Saakashvili loyalists have been placed under investigation for corruption and abuse of office charges since Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition took power after 2012 parliamentary polls.

That election spelt the end of Saakashvili's 10-year grip on power, which was marked by a politically damaging 2008 short war with neighbour Russia over breakaway Georgian regions.

Last month a court in Georgia sentenced former prime minister Vano Merabishvili to five and a half years in prison for embezzlement in a case denounced as political persecution by his supporters.

Western officials have expressed concern over any investigations that could be perceived as being politically motivated, but the Georgian government has repeatedly rejected any political motives behind the prosecutions.

Ivanishvili became Georgia's prime minister after the 2012 polls but stepped down in November in favour of his hand-picked ally, 31-year-old Garibashvili.

Still, Ivanishvili is believed to continue to wield massive influence over Georgia's politics.

Saakashvili, who is not in Georgia at the moment, has taken up a post lecturing at Boston's Tufts University since leaving power. He gave a speech in Brussels on Friday.

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