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17 Jun, 2023 14:58

Georgian president speaks out on pardoning Saakashvili

The ex-leader of the former Soviet republic should pay for crimes committed under his rule, Salome Zourabichvili says
Georgian president speaks out on pardoning Saakashvili

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili says she won’t pardon the country’s former leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, who is currently serving a six-year sentence at a clinic in Tbilisi due to poor health.

In an interview with Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper on Thursday, Zourabichvili was asked why she had denied requests from Kiev to release Saakashvili for treatment in Ukraine. The former Georgian president has a Ukrainian passport, which he obtained in 2015 before being appointed governor of Odessa Region. However, he stayed in the job for only a year and resigned amid a scandal, accusing Ukraine’s leadership of being corrupt.

“I am responsible, first of all, for the Georgian people. As president, I have to consider how the Georgian people feel… the population’s feeling is that he has to pay for some crimes that were committed during his regime – perhaps not by him but under his leadership,” she responded, explaining why she wouldn’t pardon Saakashvili.

The Georgian president, who has more of a ceremonial role in the country’s parliamentary republican system, also pointed out that Kiev never officially addressed Tbilisi about the extradition of its citizens.

Saakashvili was detained in October 2021 after secretly returning to Georgia during an election in the country. The authorities in Tbilisi accused the ex-president of abuse of power, embezzlement, and other offenses during his time in office between 2004 and 2013.

The 55-year-old was also responsible for sending Georgian troops to attack the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008, which provoked a short military conflict with Russia after its peacekeepers stationed in the area were attacked.

In May 2022, Saakashvili was placed in a clinic in Tbilisi as his lawyers and family claimed had been diagnosed with numerous diseases, including poisoning with high-density metals, and that his health had dramatically deteriorated. Georgian medics denied those claims, arguing that the politician’s drastic weight loss was a result of him refusing food. 

On Friday, Saakashvili responded to Zourabichvili’s interview, writing a note in Russian. He claimed that he was “a victim of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin” due to his support for Ukraine and that the charges against him were trumped up.

As for Zourabichvili, Saakashvili branded her a “hypocrite” for condemning Moscow over its military operation against Kiev while at the same time refusing to help him.

Georgia, which attracts many Russian tourists and does a lot of trade with its neighbor, has so far refused to join Western sanctions imposed on Moscow amid the conflict in Ukraine. Air traffic between the two countries resumed in May in accordance with a decree signed by President Putin.