Less than a month before the expected resolution of an extradition request, former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili has been released from prison in Paris.
Under a January 30 ruling by a French court, the 34-year-old former minister is prohibited from leaving Paris or traveling to airports or railway stations, according to the Georgian General Prosecutor's Office. In addition, he must check in with a local police office twice per week. Okruashvili will be staying with an unidentified Georgian family in the French capital, his defense lawyer, Eka Beselia, told journalists in Tbilisi on January 31.
Okruashvili is also barred from all types of communication that may influence the court's ruling on an extradition request, the Georgian General Prosecutor's Office has said. In November 2007, prior to his imprisonment in Berlin, Okruashvili gave an interview to Der Spiegel in which he claimed that his life would be at risk if he is extradited back to Georgia.
A French court will begin consideration of Tbilisi's extradition request on February 27, according to Beselia. The question of Okruashvili's political asylum request -- originally made in Germany -- may also be decided by that date, she said. A decision must be made within 30 days.
"He will stay in Paris and will wait for further procedures regarding the extradition issue, and, in parallel, the political asylum issue will be decided," said Beselia. "We are sure that Okruashvili won't be extradited to Georgia and will receive political asylum."
A January 4 finding by a Berlin Criminal Court -- which ruled that Tbilisi had not supplied sufficient documentation to back up its extradition request -- was cited by Okruashvili's counsel in mounting a successful argument for his release from prison pending resolution of the cases, she added. [For background see EurasiaNet's Georgia: Vote 2008 special feature].
The Georgian General Prosecutor's Office, however, insists that all documentation regarding Okruashvili's extradition case was supplied. Prosecutors also argue that the decision of the French court to release Okruashvili from custody is not necessarily indicative of the outcome of the Georgian government's extradition request.
Meanwhile, Beselia claimed, Okruashvili will file an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights concerning a two-week extension of his custody in Berlin while procedures for his January 9 transfer to France were being considered. Beselia termed it a "political decision" linked to Georgia's January 5 presidential vote. [For background see EurasiaNet's Georgia: Vote 2008 special feature].
German officials could not be contacted for comment in time for publication.
Georgian officials requested Okruashvili's extradition when he failed to reappear in Tbilisi for trial on criminal charges of money laundering, extortion, abuse of office and negligence of duty. The trial has since been suspended pending resolution of the extradition request. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Okruashvili's legal troubles began last fall, after he made scathing comments about Saakashvili. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Following his release from prison in Tbilisi last October, Okruashvili originally had been traveling to France via Munich for "medical reasons" before his November 27 detention by German police in response to Georgia's extradition request. He petitioned for political asylum upon arrival in Germany, but was transferred to France on January 9 since he had been traveling on a Schengen visa issued by the French embassy in Tbilisi.
Nina Akhmeteli is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.