By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) - Police arrested one of President Mikheil Saakashvili's main political foes on charges of corruption and abuse of power on Tuesday after he returned to Georgia from four years of political asylum in France.
Irakly Okruashvili was a close ally of Saakashvili until he quit as defense minister in 2007 after accusing the president of fraud and created his own opposition party.
The charges date back to when Saakashvili's party was in power, but the justice minister of the new government that defeated the president's long-ruling party in October signaled on Tuesday it did not believe they were justified.
"I think Okruashvili was a victim of political persecution (under Sasakashvili), but it does not mean he can be released immediately," Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani told a news conference, saying his case would be reviewed.
Saakashvili's party has accused Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's six-party Georgian Dream coalition of being politically motivated in arresting more than 10 former officials, including a former interior minister and acting chief of military staff.
Those arrests have raised opposition fears of a witch hunt in the ex-Soviet state and drawn criticism from NATO and Europe as well as warnings from the United States.
Okruashvili was originally jailed on corruption ?harges, but released on bail after making a public statement rejecting his accusations against Saakashvili.
He was granted political asylum in France in 2008, while a Georgian court pressed new charges against him including abuse of power and extortion. He was sentenced in absentia to 11 years in jail.
A Georgian court postponed hearings on Okruashvili's case until December 3, keeping him in custody until then.
His lawyer Zviad Kordzadze told reporters that there was a chance to appeal against the charges.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Alison Williams)
Nigeria's Upcoming Elections Could Turn Into 'Valentine's Day Massacre' for Christians | Leah Barkoukis
Obama's Attorney General Nominee: Illegal Immigrants Have a Right to Work in The United States | Katie Pavlich
Prediction: Gridlock for the Next Two Years, but that’s Better than the Alternative | Daniel J. Mitchell