WASHINGTON - Ex-Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili is vowing to fight the Georgian government if Ukrainian officials move to extradite him to Georgia in light of his conviction by a Tbilisi court Friday.
The court tried and convicted Saakashvili in absentia of abusing his pardon powers while in office. Georgia’s prosecutor says Saakashvili, who was in office from 2004-2013, tried to cover up evidence in the 2006 murder of Sandro Girgvliani. The 28-year-old banker was found dead outside of Tbilisi with multiple injuries after he was seen arguing in a bar with high-ranking Interior Ministry officials.
In 2008 Saakashvili pardoned four Georgian law enforcement officers convicted in Girgvliani’s murder. Georgian prosecutors claim the pardons failed to follow the procedures of a parliamentary commission on pardons and that the pardons were ultimately part of a deal to cover up evidence in an investigation of the banker’s death.
Saakashvili: Pardons were no cover-up
In an exclusive interview with VOA’s Georgian Service, Saakashvili again denied that the 2008 pardons were part of a cover-up.
“Of course [that] did not happen, but even if it had happened it would not have been a crime,” he said, describing presidential power of pardon as unlimited, “one of the very few powers that are totally unlimited for any president in the world.”
Presidential pardons, the power to absolve a convict of their conviction, while common, vary by country according to constitutional statues.
Saakashvili also called Friday’s sentencing a politically motivated conspiracy that “has nothing to do with legality.”
“Nobody ever has tried a former president for using right to pardon,” he said. “What we see is a joint effort by the Ukrainian and Georgian oligarchs. President Poroshenko went to Tbilisi last summer, [and since] he thinks that I am his main problem, he asked them to speed up the cases against me. And that’s when they came up with this case.”
It is not known whether Poroshenko and his Georgian counterparts ever discussed Saakashvili’s case. Shortly after Poroshenko’s July 2017 visit to Tbilisi, however, Kyiv officials stripped Saakashvili, who was on U.S. soil at the time, of his Ukrainian citizenship.
In August he flew to Poland before marching across the Ukrainian border surrounded by a throng of his political supporters who moved border guards aside and ultimately transported him to Kyiv, where he now lives as the world’s only stateless ex-president.
?Renewed extradition dialogue
While Saakashvili’s legal turmoil has followed him from his native Georgia to his adopted home country of Ukraine, Friday’s ruling represents his first prison sentence. Ukrainian officials on Friday said they would consider Georgia’s extradition request, though legal procedures would have to be followed.
According to Saakashvili’s government-appointed lawyer, Sofio Goglichidze, the ruling violates “a number of legal provisions and the constitution.”
“It is obvious that political persecution is going against Mikheil Saakashvili,” Goglichidze said in an interview with RFE/RL. “It was impossible to deliver a guilty verdict in the case in accordance with the law.”
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, told Reuters by phone: “[Ukrainian] prosecutors are in the process of arranging a date for Saakashvili’s questioning due to Georgia’s request to extradite him.”
But Saakashvili’s lawyer in Ukraine, Ruslan Chornolutskiy, told RFE/RL that his client’s legal status should prevent his extradition to Georgia.
“According to Ukrainian laws, a person who was a Ukrainian citizen and for the last several years resided in Ukraine cannot be extradited,” Chornolutskiy told RFE/RL. “That is what the law says on foreigners and individuals without citizenship, as well as the international convention that Ukraine has ratified.”
If extradited to Georgia, Saakashvili says he will start a “peaceful fight” to remove the government of billionaire and former prime minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili from power.
“Ivanishvili is very reluctant to get me in Georgia because I am not going to sit quietly in a prison cell,” he told VOA. “For God’s sake, I am a founding father of modern Georgia. I have huge support among the populous there and also among a majority of law-enforcement and armed services. I am going to call for getting rid of Ivanishvili’s government if they extradite me there. I will do it. I am saying it openly. We will do it peacefully, but we will do it.
“I am not going to allow them to execute the wish of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin by punishing me through the hands of the Georgian jail administration and law-enforcement,” he said.
As Georgia’s president, Saakashvili lost a five-day war in which Russian forces drove deep into Georgia in 2008. He has since referred to himself as Putin’s “biggest enemy in the post-Soviet space.”
Since Saakashvili’s September return to Ukraine, he has led a number of anti-corruption protests against the government.
This story originated in VOA’s Georgian Service.