Georgia: Saakashvili Faces Botox Charges, Loses Property
Taxpayer-expensed Botox and hair-removal procedures are among the Georgian government’s latest charges of alleged misappropriation against ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose property in Georgia was seized by police late last week.
And not only his. His wife and mother’s Tbilisi apartments and his grandmother’s 17-year-old Honda Accord were among the items seized on September 19 as apparent compensation for some $5-million worth of state funds prosecutors claim the ex-president misused for things like facials, spas and fancy clothes.
The case has not yet gone to trial, but prosecutors claim that the refusal of Saakashvili, now based in Brooklyn, to face a court in Georgia justified the seizure of his wider family’s property. “[T]here was a reasonable suspicion… that he would transfer or otherwise conceal his and his associates’ property to obstruct compensating for the damage to the state,” the General Prosecutor’s Office said in a September-19 statement.
But some are raising eyebrows at that reasoning. Saakashvili’s Dutch-born wife, Sandra Roelofs, said on Friday that she had purchased her Tbilisi apartment long before her husband became president in 2004, from funds derived from the sale of another flat which her father had given her as a wedding gift.
“For all these years, I have done nothing but good... I don’t know why I deserved this,” the ex-first-lady, who has been active in the public-health, social-welfare and cultural spheres, told the Saakashvili-sympathetic Rustavi2 TV station. Asked whether she would leave Georgia, Roelofs emphasized that her husband and she want their younger son, eight-year-old Nikoloz, who goes to school in Tbilisi, to be brought up in Georgia.
Just like her grandson, Saakashvili’s grandmother, Mzia Tsereteli, now living with another grandson, is convinced that her property was impounded out of an alleged desire for revenge by the ruling Georgian Dream's founder, ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
“If Bidzina Ivanishvili also takes this apartment away from me, then he should take me to live with his sharks and those penguins that he has," Tsereteli told Rustavi2's PS program, referring to Ivanishvili’s fabled private zoo. "I have no other place to live.”
The Saakashvilis get little compassion from those Georgians who suffered what they term arbitrary property confiscations, evictions and arrests under his 2004-2013 time in office.
But even for some Misha-critics, the move seemed a throwback to the very practices that the current ruling Georgian Dream claimed it had ended when its coalition came to power in Georgia's 2012 parliamentary elections.
A widespread perception exists that the government’s obsession with revenge against its once main political foe is getting the better of it, with more pressing political and economic challenges left unaddressed.
Some Georgians saw the disclosure of information about the ex-president's alleged Botox and hair-removal treatments as a move meant to reinvigorate public support for the case.
Tapping into this public frustration, Saakashvili’s lawyer issued a reminder that under his client’s rule, the Georgian state budget grew elevenfold, while Georgia is now facing budget shortfalls. The lawyer, Otar Kakhidze, pointed to current officials living off controversial bonus payments and proverbial fatted calves; quite literally in the case of Economy Minister Nodar Khaduri.
Amid ongoing, bitter debates about whether life was better under Misha or now, and if the prosecution went too far with the confiscations, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili tried to dispel the persistent perception that his government is fixated on the ex-president.
“Saakashvili is a show item of the past. I don’t want to speak about him,” Gharibashvili said, news outlets reported. But he did say he was pleased that Saakashvili’s family property was seized.
Georgia’s current president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, often overlooked because of his limited powers and feud with Gharibashvili, said impounding Saakashvili’s property was an ill-advised move ahead of the prime minister’s September-22 trip to New York for the UN’s climate summit — a trip he once had intended to make himself.
Margvelashvili also noted the US State Department’s expression of concern a week ago about the “risks that politicized persecution would pose for Georgian democracy.”
Those concerns, though, have been expressed before. But the charges keep on coming.