Criminal charges were filed against Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava over the seizure of TV channel Imedi TV as well as the misspending of public funds and money laundering. The Finance Ministry’s Investigations Service announced the charges on February 22nd.
The Mayor of Tbilisi facing prison?
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, February 25
The first charge refers to the "the criminal seizure of Imedi TV” in 2008 and the other to the supposed misspending of 4.1 million lari of public funds. Ugulava is charged with creating hundreds of fictitious job positions in the municipal government. The funds were then channelled to pay the salaries of United National Movement (UNM) party activists.
Ugulava denied the accusations and has refused to speak to the Prosecutor's Office.
Tbilisi Mayor described the Finance Ministry's actions as "absurd" and insinuated that the proceedings against him are a plot to force him out of office and gain control of Tbilisi's municipal government by the Georgian Dream coalition.
UNM members have also claimed that Georgian Dream is trying to "destroy" the opposition party and disrupt the UNM-led large-scale demonstration planned for April 19th.
“This case against Ugulava is really an attempt to seize control of the Tbilisi municipal government by bypassing elections. It is a very dangerous choice for our country’s democracy. But I am sure that they won't achieve their goal.” UNM member Giga Bokeria said.
The Ministry of Finance published certain evidence related to the charges, including a statement by the former owner of Imedi TV Joseph Key that Ugulava was one of the major players in the government's seizure of the TV channel in 2008.
Georgian Dream members have responded that the accusations against Ugulava and other UNM officials are justified.
“Former officials are afraid of justice… cohabitation does not mean forgiving crimes already committed.” Georgian Dream representative Irakli Sesiashvili said.
The Ministers of Internal Affairs and Justice stated that there is real evidence against Ugulava and the courts will decide the issue.
The Prosecutor’s Office will ask the courts to make a decision about the form of Ugulava's detention later on Sunday.
Former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili stated that if Ugulava is arrested he will temporarily assume Ugulava's responsibilities as mayor.
Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze told The Messenger that Gigi Ugulava will most likely be imprisoned. According to Sakvarelidze there is a great public demand for justice concerning former and current UNM officials.
“If Ugulava is released on bail it will greatly irritate the public.” Sakvarelidze said.