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28 Mar, 2008 13:20

Georgian ex-minister gets 11 year sentence

A court in Georgia has found the country's ex-Defence Minister guilty of extortion and sentenced him to 11 years in absentia. Irakli Okruashvili is currently exiled in France, where he’s seeking political asylum.

Okruashvili claims the charges are fabricated and politically motivated, as his arrest came just days after he set up an opposition party.

“Within a month we will appeal this verdict in the supreme court. It is just a formality as we do not expect anything to change in the judicial system of Georgia while Saakashvili is president. We have to do this before we can take the case to the European court of human rights in Stasbourg,” commented Okruashvili's lawyer Eka Beselia.

Okruashvili was Georgia's defence minister until 2006. Once a key ally of President Mikhail Saakashvili, he returned to prominence after forming an opposition party. He then accused his former friend of corruption, nepotism and plotting assassinations.

Arrested days later on charges of extortion, bribe taking and abuse of power, he was released on $US 6 million bail after confessing to the crimes in a televised statement.

Nonetheless, his supporters say he is innocent.

“It is clear even for an amateur who knows nothing about legal issues that what happened to Okruashvili is a political decision, every citizen of Georgia will tell you that. You cannot call him a criminal,” Okruashvili supporter, member of Georgian Parliament Teo Tlashadze, said.