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Georgia sentences former premier to 5 1/2 years in jail

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A court in Georgia on Monday sentenced former prime minister Vano Merabishvili to five and a half years in prison for embezzlement in a case his lawyer denounced as political persecution.

The court found Merabishvili, who headed the government of ousted pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili, guilty of giving fictitious jobs to activists who were involved in his party's losing parliamentary election campaign in 2012.

Judge Natia Barbakadze also issued a $27,000 fine to Merabishvili's co-defendent, former health minister Zurab Chiaberashvili.

Merabishvili, who has been in pretrial detention since May 2013, had served as secretary general of Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) party, which was defeated by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition.

"We will appeal the illegal verdict," Merabishvili's lawyer Otar Kakhidze told AFP, accusing the judge of acting under pressure from the prosecutor's office.

"This is nothing but political persecution aimed at destroying the main opposition party in Georgia," he said.

Dozens of Saakashvili's allies have been placed under investigation for corruption and abuse of office charges since the end of the former president's 10-year stay in power, which was marked by a politically damaging 2008 war with neighbour Russia.

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

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

But Ivanishvili is still believed to wield massive influence over Georgia's politics.

Russia has expressed hope that it can launch a political dialogue with the new Georgian government after breaking off all contacts with Saakashvili's team in 2008.

A court in Georgia on Monday sentenced former prime minister Vano Merabishvili to five and a half years in prison for embezzlement in a case his lawyer denounced as political persecution.

The court found Merabishvili, who headed the government of ousted pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili, guilty of giving fictitious jobs to activists who were involved in his party’s losing parliamentary election campaign in 2012.

Judge Natia Barbakadze also issued a $27,000 fine to Merabishvili’s co-defendent, former health minister Zurab Chiaberashvili.

Merabishvili, who has been in pretrial detention since May 2013, had served as secretary general of Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party, which was defeated by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.

“We will appeal the illegal verdict,” Merabishvili’s lawyer Otar Kakhidze told AFP, accusing the judge of acting under pressure from the prosecutor’s office.

“This is nothing but political persecution aimed at destroying the main opposition party in Georgia,” he said.

Dozens of Saakashvili’s allies have been placed under investigation for corruption and abuse of office charges since the end of the former president’s 10-year stay in power, which was marked by a politically damaging 2008 war with neighbour Russia.

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

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

But Ivanishvili is still believed to wield massive influence over Georgia’s politics.

Russia has expressed hope that it can launch a political dialogue with the new Georgian government after breaking off all contacts with Saakashvili’s team in 2008.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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