A lengthy court case on a controversial police crackdown has ended in a guilty verdict for ex-Georgian Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, once one of the most powerful figures of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's era.
A Kutaisi court on February 27 gave 45-year-old Merabishvili a prison sentence of just over four and a half years for allegedly having overstepped his power as interior minister during the brutal dispersal of an anti-government rally in Tbilisi on May 26, 2011. The tumult, in which two people were killed, plus scores injured and arrested, sparked a general outcry among Georgian society and served to harden opposition to Saakashvili.
This time, the debate was more localized.
Outside the courthouse in Tbilisi, a fight broke out between supporters and critics of Merabisvhili, who remains the secretary-general of Saakashvili's United National Movement. Police made arrests.
Fellow UNM members claimed that the judge gave in to pressure from the ruling Georgian Dream -- a claim not without its irony, given occasions in the past when the same was said of the UNM.
Ten days earlier, Merabishvili also was sentenced to nine years in prison on separate embezzlement and extortion charges. Even with time subtracted for the nine months he already has spent in jail in pre-trial detention, at this rate, the former power broker will be approaching the age of retirement before he gets out of prison.
And still the court cases continue. Merabishvili also faces charges related to the 2006 murder of banker Sandro Girgvliani. Prosecutors further have begun an investigation into a sensational video recording, recently released, that showed Merabishvili, as interior minister, ordering Georgian special forces during a supposed 2009 army mutiny to bring him "two bodies."
Citing concerns about a politically motivated prosecution, a French court on February 27 denied Georgia's request for the extradition of ex-Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, who served in the cabinet with Merabishvili. Kezerashvili is wanted for a variety of alleged financial misdeeds, including the supposed smuggling of ethyl alcohol.