Georgian ex-prime minister jailed for 2 months

AP News
Posted: May 22, 2013 3:54 PM

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — A court in Georgia has ordered that a former prime minister be held in jail for two months pending trial on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office.

The decision by the court in the city of Kutaisi on Wednesday came a day after Vano Merabishvili was arrested. Former labor minister Zurab Chiaberashvili, arrested along with Merabishvili, was allowed by the court to go free on bail of 20,000 lari ($13,000).

Merabishvili, who was premier for five months in 2012 and previously had been interior minister, leads the party of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Since the party lost last fall's parliamentary election, Saakashvili and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili have engaged in a power struggle.

Merabishvili and Chiaberashvili allegedly put more than 22,000 party activists on the labor ministry's payroll.

Saakashvili's presidential term does not end until October, so he must serve alongside his arch-foe, Ivanishvili, whom he accuses of kowtowing to Moscow. Under Ivanishvili, authorities have leveled abuse of office charges against some of Saakashvili's top lieutenants.

Saakashvili has denounced the cases as politically driven. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top foreign affairs official, and EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule on Wednesday called on Georgian officials to ensure the case against Merabishvili and Chiaberashvili was pursued without political taint.

Ivanishvili responded in a statement that "We will ensure against any political influence in the ongoing judicial processes."