Fugitive Georgian ex-minister detained on return
TBILISI - Agence France-Presse
Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. AP photoGeorgia on Tuesday detained a fugitive former defence minister convicted of corruption after he returned to the ex-Soviet state overnight in the hope of an amnesty from the new government.
Politician Irakli Okruashvili was convicted of "large-scale extortion" in 2008 and sentenced to 11 years in absentia after he fled the previous year to France, where he won political asylum.
He was immediately detained on arrival at Tbilisi airport and his lawyers said that a court would start considering his case later Tuesday.
"Irakli Okruashvili is ready to continue his just struggle from prison, appeal to overturn the charges against him and prove his innocence," the former minister's Georgian Party said in a statement.
"The changes going on in the country give him hope for that," the statement said.
The new government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose coalition defeated President Mikheil Saakashvili's party at polls last month, plans to reconsider convictions of people it judges to be "political prisoners" and amnesty those it determines to have been unjustly jailed.
However Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said that Okruashvili's claims of political persecution did not mean that he was innocent.
"Everything should be investigated," Tsulukiani told journalists.
Okruashvili served as defence minister from 2004 to 2006 during Saakashvili's first term, when he attracted controversy for his hawkish stance on Georgia's conflicts with Russia.
He quit government shortly after Saakashvili appointed him to the less powerful role of economic development minister and went into opposition, controversially accusing Saakashvili of ordering him to kill several opponents, though he offered no evidence to support his allegations.
His original arrest in 2007 helped to inspire street protests in Tbilisi which eventually culminated in a police crackdown.
Okruashvili was eventually found guilty of extorting shares in a mobile phone company from a Georgian businessman.