Okruashvili requests political asylum in Germany

( Itar-Tass ) - Former Georgian defence minister Irakly Okruashvili, who was arrested at the end of November, asked for political asylum in Germany, an Interior Ministry official said on Monday.

Okruashvili is in a pre-trial detention centre at Berlin's Moabit prison. He was arrested at the request of Georgian authorities that had charged him with abuse of authority at the time when he was defence minister and demanded his extradition.

Berlin's Justice Department spokeswoman Iris Berger told Itar-Tass that Okruashvili had been accused, among other things, of having ordered the purchase of aircraft fuel at overstated prices from a company controlled by his friend and employee.

He is also accused of exerting pressure by way of threatening another person in order to buy his shares at a price below their market value.

The Berlin court said Okruashvili's extradition "is not inadmissible" because the charges brought against him are publishable under German and European law as well.

According to the German Interior Ministry official, the request for Okruashvili's extradition was faxed. For this process to start, Georgia has to formally and duly submit the original request. After that the Justice Department of Berlin will make a decision on how long Okruashvili should remain in custody and whether he can be extradited.

Okruashvili's lawyer Eka Beselia said the former minister had been in a nervous state, awaiting the Berlin court's decision on Tbilisi's extradition request.

Beselia said she had done "much work" with Okruashvili's German lawyer. As a result, the German side was shown "all the proof, all the documents which directly affirm that it is a matter of imprisonment for political motives."

"Therefore, the issue of the arrest warrant was a political decision by the Georgian leadership," the lawyer said.

"We're now trying to prove that the motivation of Okruashvili's detention was political," Beselia noted expressing the hope that the German court will take into account the relevant proofs and "will not grant Georgia's extradition request."

"The accusations against Okruashvili are formal, they have not been proven." The date of court proceedings in Berlin is not known yet, she said.

She reminded that Georgia would hold a presidential election on January 5, and that "it is very important not to allow Okruashvili's extradition to Georgia during this period," because "it's very dangerous for his life and health."

It is also important that Okruashvili be not in prison, as the leader of a political movement.

"We have many arguments and a lot of evidence to prove Okruashvili's innocence; we are hoping they will be taken into consideration," Eka Beselia said.

Beselia is currently in Berlin with Okruashvili's wife Irina Gordeladze, who was given the opportunity to see Okruashvili in prison.

The lawyers believe "if the Berlin court rules not to extradite Okruashvili to Georgia, it will imply his release from custody."

Beselia and Gordeladze flew to Berlin on December 2.

On November 30, the Georgian political movement For United Georgia, created by Okruashvili, asked EU leaders not to allow his extradition from Germany to Georgia.

The arrest warrant for the former defense minister was issued on November 14. By so ruling a Georgian court responded to an appeal from the Prosecutor General's Office that had asked it to change the measure of restraint for Okruashvili "from release on bail to custody".

The Prosecutor General's Office explained its demand by the fact that Okruashvili "has not reported for questioning when summoned by investigators" and that "one of Okruashvili's friends who has paid the bail for his release filed a petition with the relevant authorities yesterday, requesting the return of the deposit of more than two million laris (1.2 million U.S. dollars)".

The total deposit was 10 million laris (six million U.S. dollars) and was made by several of Okruashvili's friends.

A representative of the Prosecutor General's Office said a search for Okruashvili would be started based on the court ruling.

Beselia described the court ruling as "unfounded" and said she would contest it in Tbilisi's Appellate Court. Earlier she had asked the Tbilisi City Court to postpone the trial of her client for one month. Beselia motivated her request by the "need to carefully study the materials of the case".

The lawyer said she had no contact with Okruashvisi, who is in Germany, and did not know when he was going to return to Georgia.

Georgian judicial authorities said, "The investigators took all measures toward informing Okruashvili, who is staying in Germany, about the beginning of trial on November 16, but he did not turn up in court."

Okruashvili, 34, was arrested on September 27 on charges of abuse of office at the post of the defence minister in 2005-06, negligence, money laundering and extortion.

He was freed on a 10-million lari (six million dollar) bail on October 9.

It was announced that Okruashvili "has partially admitted being guilty and stated readiness to cooperate with the investigation, but he remains a defendant and he must report to the investigator, prosecutor or court immediately upon demand".

Georgia's Deputy Prosecutor General Nika Gvaramia said the investigation of the Okruashvili case had not been dropped and that he remained a suspect.

"The Prosecutor General's Office earlier stated and confirms today that Okruashvili remains a defendant, nobody has lifted the blame from him. If he fails to return to Georgia on first demand of investigators, the bail paid for his release -- 10 million laris - will be added to Georgia's state budget and the measure of restrain for Okruashvili will be replaced with a tougher one, i.e. he will be put on the wanted list," Gvaramia said.

Prior to that Okruashvili again accused the Georgia president of "lawlessness" and said he would return "to the Motherland only when he was able to continue political activities."

The ex-defence minister flew to Munich on November 1.

He said in an interview with Tbilisi's television company Imedi on November 1 that "law enforcement agencies forced me to leave Georgia so that I did not participate in the opposition rally on November 2".

The Georgian Prosecutor General's Office called Okruashvili's statement "disinformation".

It said the "ex-minister himself asked for permission to fly to Germany for medial treatment".

Gvaramia dismissed as "groundless" Okruashvili's claims that he had been forced to leave the country.

"In late October, Okruashvili told investigators he wished to leave Georgia for medical treatment, to which the investigators agreed, given the unprecedented amount of bail paid by his friends for his release," he said.

According to Gvaramia, "Okruashvili applied for a visa at the French embassy; the participation of investigators in this process was limited to the prosecutor's consent, which was officially forwarded to the French embassy."

Georgian prosecutors also denied Okruashvili's statement that government officials had put pressure on him during his brief incarceration.

"None of the officials visited Okruashvili in his cell. Moreover, Okruashvili himself asked for a meeting with Deputy Prosecutor General Kakha Koberidze. During the meeting with Koberidze, Okruashvili stated his readiness to cooperate with the investigation," Gvaramia stated.

Okruashvili claimed earlier this week that several government officials had visited him in his cell, including Defence Minister David Kezerashvili, who asked him to disavow his accusations against the president.

Okruashvili claimed he was told he would face 25 years in jail if he did not retract his accusations against the president and give up politics.

At the same time, he said he had not been "subjected to physical or psychological influence or pressure in prison".

On September 25, Okruashvili accused Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili of the attempt to assert authoritarianism, violations of human and property rights, disrespect for intelligentsia, attempts to split the Georgian Orthodox Church, the ostentatious fight against corruption and the unwillingness to make real moves towards settling conflicts.

In the video recording of the interrogation of Okruashvili at the Prosecutor-General's Office, the former defence minister said that the "accusations addressed to president Saakashvili and other top officials do not correspond to reality, and these statements had the goal to get political dividends and to discredit the president".

The Georgian authorities then released him on bail on October 9.

Okruashvili held the post of Georgia's Prosecutor General from January to June 2004 and later moved to the office of interior minister.

He took the post of defence minister in December 2004 and was transferred to the job of economic development minister in November 2006. He resigned from the latter job only a week after his appointment

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