In Georgia, Criminal Charges Against Saakashvili Ally

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TBILISI, Georgia -- The Georgian authorities brought criminal charges against a former defense minister and two current Defense Ministry officials on Wednesday, in what some lawmakers feared presaged a wave of reprisals against members of President Mikheil Saakashvili's defeated government.

Mr. Saakashvili's party lost parliamentary elections last month in the country's first post-Soviet constitutional transfer of power, and party members are surrendering control after eight years in office. The new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, said he would make it a priority to investigate officials in the departing government. Such investigations have followed previous defeats of sitting leaders.

The former defense minister, Bacho Akhalaia, was charged with assaulting six servicemen in October 2011. According to written testimony released by the prosecutor, Mr. Akhalaia attacked the servicemen after they complained of bad living conditions. The two current Defense Ministry officials were also charged with assault.

Lawmakers from the prime minister's and the president's parties, who must now share power in Parliament, engaged in a bitter debate on Wednesday. David Bakradze, a leader of Mr. Saakashvili's party, told reporters that the prosecutions would be "the first very serious test for the new government -- if it is ready to work according to the law or will choose the path of political and personal revenge."

Manana Kobakhidze, vice speaker of the Parliament and an ally of Mr. Ivanishvili, said during the debate: "Society has been waiting for the punishment of this person for a very long time. But believe me, if it is not proved that he conducted a crime, no one will prosecute him." 

Lawmakers from the president's party then staged a walkout, complaining about Mr. Akhalaia's arrest and a new order to audit the country's public broadcaster. During an evening television appearance, Mr. Saakashvili warned, "The international community will never accept this."

According to the charges, a sergeant, identified by the letter B, said Mr. Akhalaia hit his head with the handle of a knife in his office, and took him and five other servicemen to the Vaziani military base, where Mr. Akhalaia and the two arrested defense officials beat them in the presence of other officers. Then, the charges say, the servicemen, members of the Fourth Brigade, were locked in an unfurnished cell and told to stand at attention for three days, shouting "Fame to the Fourth Brigade" once an hour.

All of the servicemen were charged with attempted mutiny and dismissed last year. They gave testimony recently, after Mr. Ivanishvili's personal lawyer was appointed general prosecutor, replacing an ally of Mr. Saakashvili's.

Prosecutors said more charges could be brought against Mr. Akhalaia soon.

Giga Bokeria, secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia, urged Mr. Akhalaia's immediate release, calling the charge "political retribution."

Several former ministers, including Mr. Akhalaia, left Georgia immediately after Mr. Saakashvili's party lost the Oct. 1 election, presumably to avoid prosecution. Mr. Akhalaia returned this week, announcing that he was ready "to answer whatever questions" the new government had to ask him.

Dmitri Shashkin, another former defense minister, left for the United States and is staying in the Washington area. He has said he has no plan to return to Georgia while Mr. Ivanishivili's government is in power. The former justice minister, Zurab Adeishvili, also left Georgia but has made no public statement so far.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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