Georgian investigators question former prime minister

Reuters News

12/1/2012 10:08:03 AM - Reuters News

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian investigators were questioning former prime minister Vano Merabishvili on Saturday in the latest of a string of legal cases brought against members of the ousted administration of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The detentions of former state officials since billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's coalition defeated Saakashvili's long-ruling party in parliamentary elections in October has raised opposition complaints of a political witch-hunt.

More than 20 former officials, including a former interior minister and the army's acting chief of staff, have been arrested and charged with abuse of power, illegal confinement or illegally obtaining personal information.

The Interior Ministry said on Saturday it had opened an investigation against Merabishvili on suspicions that he had used a forged document and attempted an illicit crossing of the state border.

Merabishvili, now secretary general of Saakashvili's United National Movement, visited Armenia on Friday on a one-day trip as a member of an official delegation led by Saakashvili, who remains in the office of president until elections next year.

An employee of the presidential protocol service submitted a passport purporting to be Merabishvili's to border control staff at Tbilisi airport on departure.

Border control detected that the passport bore the name "Levan Maisuradze" but a photo of Merabishvili had been affixed to it, an interior ministry spokeswoman said.

"In order not to hamper or cause any problems to the visit of the state delegation, Vano Merabishvili was allowed to submit the real passport and therefore no immediate legal action was taken against him," she said.

"In connection with this case Vano Merabishvili will be summoned and questioned today."

Merabishvili said the case was fabricated.

"I understand that a new government wants to intimidate everyone, but what they say and do today is beyond all limits," Merabishvili told journalists.

The West has urged Georgia's new government to avoid selective justice and political persecution against political opponents in the ex-Soviet republic, the pivot of geopolitical rivalry between the West and Russia.

European and U.S. diplomats have called for cooperation between Ivanishvili and Saakashvili, who came to power in the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)