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Ugulava suspended from office

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, December 23
A 50,000 GEL fine and suspension from office were the verdicts made against current Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava on December 21 by the Tbilisi City Court. The court rejected the prosecution’s motion seeking Ugulava’s pre-trial detention. Based on the explanations made by the court, Ugulava’s clean past and his collaboration with law-enforcement did not provide basis for his detention. However, the court’s speaker-lawyer emphasized that accusations against Ugulava were related to the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office and he should be suspended from his position until the final verdict over the issue is complete. The court’s press service states that through the law, a lawyer has the right to make such a decision without discussing the issue with the interested sides.

Charges filed against Ugulava on December 18 involve the misspending of municipal funds, (more than 48 million GEL), for the United National Movement expenses. Ugulava is already standing trial on similar charges filed against him in February 2013.

Ugulava and the United National Movement (UNM) claim that the process is politically motivated, aiming at destroying the UNM.

“It has been confirmed once again that the legal proceedings against me are purely of a political nature,” Ugulava said, noting that the court has been dragged into the political process and the mayor, elected by 55% of Tbilisi residents, has been sacked without any argument.

“There is no other constitutional mechanism, except for an election, to dismiss a directly-elected mayor,” Ugulava said

The UNM stated that concerning the pre-trial detention, the judge managed not to be influenced by the government members.

“Suspending a directly-elected mayor will negatively reflect on our democracy,” the UNM MP Davit Bakradze said. He stressed that a political decision was made against Ugulava.

Members of the parliamentary majority categorically deny placing any political pressure on Ugulava’s case.

According to the member of the Georgian Dream, Eka Beselia, the government does not interfere in the court’s activities.

“It is natural that Ugulava is unsatisfied with the ongoing process. However, the case concerns the misspending of 48 million GEL, and it is natural that the Prosecutor’s Office has launched actions concerning the case. Everyone should know the truth over the issue. Ugulava will not be able to fulfill his duty until the final verdict,” Beselia states.

Fellow coalition MP Giorgi Volski states that the UNM has no other way but to claim that the decision was politically motivated. “They are at bay,” Volski states.

Executive Director of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Nino Lomjaria responded to the process.

“If suspension of duty of the elected Mayor is so insignificant that the judge does not even verbally discuss it, what guarantee have I that the judge will protect ordinary citizens’ rights?”

Analyst Mamuka Areshidze states that accusations against Ugulava have real basis. However, he thinks that the mayor’s detention until his term expires might be non-beneficial from a political point of view.

“However, if someone commits a crime, he/she should answer if the guilt is confirmed,” Areshidze says.

His deputy, Sevdia Ugrekhelidze will temporally replace Ugulava.