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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Slanderer Confesses

It didn't take long for the sleazy smear job on Georgia's president (on which we previously reported) to come apart at the seams. The Associated Press reports:

Georgia's former defense minister retracted his accusations against the president, winning release on bail, but other opposition leaders said his statement had been made under duress and vowed Monday to push for early elections to end the political crisis.

Irakly Okruashvili was arrested Sept. 27, the day after he accused President Mikheil Saakashvili of a murder plot and corruption -- allegations Saakashvili dismissed as "unpardonable lies." Okruashvili was charged with extortion, money laundering and abuse of power. Okruashvili was a longtime Saakashvili ally who served as his defense minister until late last year. His accusations and arrest have thrown the ex-Soviet nation into the worst political turmoil in years.

On Monday, Nika Gvaramia, Georgia's deputy chief prosecutor, said Okruashvili had retracted his accusations and acknowledged that he made them for political gains.

"He said that the allegations he made in the media didn't correspond to reality and only served one goal -- getting political dividends," Gvaramia said. Gvaramia also said in televised comments that Okruashvili had pleaded guilty to charges of extortion and failure to properly perform his duties. Georgian television stations later broadcast footage of Okruashvili's questioning in which he retracted his accusations. Okruashvili, wearing a sports suit, looked tense and tired but was speaking clearly. "That doesn't correspond to reality," he said grimly when an investigator asked him about his claim that Saakashvili in 2005 tried to encourage him to kill Badri Patarkatsishvili, a prominent businessman. Asked about his corruption allegations against Saakashvili, Okruashvili again said the claims were untrue and added, "I said it in order to discredit Saakashvili." He also pleaded guilty to charges of extortion related to acquisition of a stake in a Georgian cell phone company. Okruashvili's lawyer, Eka Beselia, said she was not present during the questioning Sunday and refused to make immediate comment.

A court in Tbilisi has ruled to free Okruashvili on bail equivalent to $6 million, Gvaramia said. He added that Okruashvili would remain in custody until he produces the money. Opposition leaders said Okruashvili had been forced to make his statement. "Let's raise the money and free the person who spoke the truth but couldn't stand torture," said Koba Davitashvili, the leader of the opposition People's Party who was a one-time ally of Saakashvili. "He clearly gave the testimony under duress," said Kakha Kukhava, of the Democratic Front. He added that the opposition would go ahead with a planned Nov. 2 rally to push for early parliamentary elections and abolition of the position of president. After Okruashvili's arrest, 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in front of the parliament, blocking traffic and occasionally clashing with police. The protest was among the largest shows of discontent since Saakashvili was propelled to power in the 2003 mass uprising known as the Rose Revolution.

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