Playing with Fire – Is Georgian Dream Turning Ugulava into a Georgian Mandela?
24 September, 2015
Playing with Fire – Is Georgian Dream Turning Ugulava into a Georgian Mandela?
Former Tbilisi Mayor’s 24 Hours of Freedom End in Another Imprisonment

On September 17, following the decision made by the Constitutional Court the day before, former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava was released from custody. However, his freedom was short-lived, as 24 hours later the court declared him guilty in the “Tbilservice Group Case”, sentencing him to four and a half years of imprisonment. Judge Lasha Chkhikvadze has refused to satisfy requests of the defense or the defendant himself, who asked
to be given a week to prepare his last plea. It is noteworthy that the courtroom where the verdict was announced by the judge was almost empty, since Ugulava’s supporters were outside the building. As they proclaimed, they had no desire to listen to a sentence that they knew in advance.

Although members of the ruling team can hardly be credited with possessing necessary acumen and knowledge of rules of political confrontation, their opponents definitely can. After leaving the courtroom, the first thing newly freed Ugulava said to his cheering supporters was, “Georgia must rid itself of Bidzina Ivanishvili. We are not going to change the electoral system, we are going to use it to do a U-turn and win that way.”

We remind our readers that “Tbilservice Group Case” concerns the National Movement party’s use of the budget to underhandedly finance its own activities. According to the court, this operation was personally organized by Ugulava. As the case materials have it, geotv.geTbilservice Group public relations department was created on December 31, 2009, specifically for the purpose of distributing money to the National Movement’s activists. 764 of them were registered at the department as “party coordinators,” yet none of them ever worked there for a day. Despite their pursuing exclusively party-related activities, they received a total amount of 4,130,728 GEL in budget money meant for the Georgian capital’s needs as salaries.

Ugulava was arrested in July of 2014 at Tbilisi Airport, when boarding a plane bound for Kiev. He spent almost 15 months in pre-trial detention.

The National Movement, relying on case materials, claims that Ugulava is a victim of political persecution. As evidence of that, they present the fact that prior to the delivery of the final verdict, several parliamentary majority members have essentially announced the former mayor’s return into custody. For example, after the court declared Ugulava’s 15-month detention as exceeding the constitutional norm of nine months and released him, MP Tamaz Mechiauri commented that his and his supporters’ triumph will only last for a few hours. Gia Volski, chairman of the Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, wrote on social media immediately upon the former mayor’s release, “Tomorrow there will be a trial at which Ugulava will receive his final sentence.”

Although members of the ruling team can hardly be credited with possessing necessary acumen and knowledge of rules of political confrontation, their opponents definitely can. After leaving the courtroom, the first thing newly freed Ugulava said to his cheering supporters was, “Georgia must rid itself of Bidzina Ivanishvili. We are not going to change the electoral system, we are going to use it to do a U-turn and win that way.”

The hullabaloo around Ugulava’s case has another interesting and important detail – even three years after the country’s government changed, the Prosecutor’s Office has still failed to establish itself as a worthy prosecutorial jurisdiction. Likewise, we have the consolation in the form of the Constitutional Court making an unprecedented decision for the first time in independent Georgia’s history, thus proving the relatively high level of democracy in the country to be far more than just empty words.

“Do not be sad; smile and stay strong… I am just taking time off for some rest – forced academic leave, even,” declared Ugulava before getting imprisoned after 24 hours of freedom. These words remind me of Nelson Mandela, who studied law at the University of London by correspondence during his time in prison, eventually attaining a bachelor’s degree. Ugulava too will have to learn political science to assist with his political reincarnation, but until then, the question remains – will Georgian Dream actually end up turning him into Georgia’s own Nelson Mandela?

Author: Rusudan Shelia
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