France grants political asylum to former Georgian defence minister

Georgia Materials 23 April 2008 17:26 (UTC +04:00)

France granted political asylum to Georgia's former defence minister and opposition politician Irakly Okruashvili, the internet news site MediaPart reported on Wednesday, confirming a statement by a Georgian opposition party spokesman.

Okruashvili's lawyer Eka Beseliya said she was awaiting official confirmation and would make a statement Wednesday evening, news agency Interfax reported.

However, the French government refused Wednesday to comment on the affair. An official from the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons told Deutsche Presse-Agentur - dpa that they did not comment on individual cases.

Okruashvili, 34, fled to Europe last year while on bail of 6 million dollars. In March, he was sentenced by a Georgian court in absentia to 11 years in jail on charges of corruption and bribery.

A firm opponent of President Mikhail Saakashvili, Okruashvili accused the authorities of concocting the charges to kill his political participation.

His arrest in September drew the largest protests since the peaceful revolution that brought Saakashvili to power in 2003, triggering early elections.

Germany extradited Okruashvili to France for a decision on his asylum request in January because French authorities had issued him the Schengen visa.