Ex-mayor of Tbilisi and one of the leaders of the United National Movement, Gigi Ugulava, was released from prison on January 6, following Tbilisi Court of Appeal’s ruling, which shortened his sentence by three years and three months.
After his release, Ugulava, who was met by his friends and party members with ovations, called for releasing “other political prisoners” through amnesty or presidential pardon. He also emphasized that he has not admitted guilt. In his first remarks, Ugulava also stated that he would direct his efforts to settle the internal confrontation in the United National Movement in a civilized manner.
Gigi Ugulava was sentenced in September 2015 to four years and six months in prison after being found guilty of misspending of public funds while serving as the mayor of the capital city – charges, which he has denied as politically motivated. The prosecution claimed that Ugulava siphoned off GEL 4.1 million of public funds by creating over 760 fictitious job positions in the capital city’s municipal service through which funds were funneled to pay salaries of UNM party activists.
The Court of Appeals re-qualified the misspending charges and found him guilty of exceeding official powers. The court sentenced him to one year, three months and 22 days in prison, taking into account the December 2012 amnesty act.
Beka Basilaia, Ugulava’s defense lawyer, said that Ugulava’s jail term was expiring on Monday, January 9, but added that the legislation allows pre-term release of an inmate, if the due date for the prisoner’s release falls immediately after weekend.
Earlier, on January 4, Ugulava said at the court hearing, that it is “clearly wrong” when public servants work as party activists and added, that he failed to deal with the issue.
“This was not meant like that, but it turned out so,” Ugulava said in his final word. “I am not distancing from this; unfortunately, this is my problem.”
Apart from that, Tbilisi Court of Appeals, upheld the verdict of Tbilisi City Court, which found Gigi Ugulava not guilty in a separate case, which involved charges of money laundering. Davit Kezerashvili, former Defense Minister, was also found not guilty in the same case.
The Prosecutor’s Office stated that it would appeal the decision.
Ugulava’s release comes ahead of the United National Movement’s disputed party congress on January 20. Gigi Ugulava is allegedly backing the Bokeria-Bakradze’s group, which opposes ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his sympathizers.
Ugulava said that he “feels regret” at “the shameful” processes ongoing in the party and plans to meet with Mikheil Saakashvili and his sympathizers, so that “we do our utmost” and “overcome the crisis … if there is at least half a percent likelihood of that.”
“The forms of past relations are unlikely to be restored, but if we find a common platform, which will be focused on the present and the future, it may work. It requires willingness and talking to each other on all these problems,” Ugulava said.
“If we fail to reach [an agreement] in future… it is our obligation to ensure that it happens in a civilized manner and not in the terrible form that is regretfully taking place now,” he noted.
Mikheil Saakashvili, who now is in the opposition in Ukraine, welcomed Ugulava’s release on his Facebook page saying that “we are dealing not with legal [decisions], but with Ivanishvili’s personal decisions, both on arrests and releases.”
“I am glad that he will celebrate Christmas together with his children and friends. Gigi has not committed a crime, nor has he done any incorrect acts (despite what he said during the last trial) in respect to those issues, which were pushed forth by Ivanishvili’s pocket prosecutors during this entire period. Therefore, this imprisonment was nothing but the oligarch’s personal revenge and part of an intimidation campaign,” Saakashvili wrote in his Facebook post.
In the same post, he called on ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili to allow him to return to Georgia and attend the January 20 congress.
“We should demand from him to release other political prisoners and enable me to enter in Georgia without any obstacles in order to meet with our people and participate in the congress of the United National Movement on January 20,” writes ex-President Saakashvili, who is wanted in Georgia for various charges, which he denies as politically motivated.