Georgia: In Televised About-Face, Ex-Minister Retracts Murder Claims
By Salome Asatiani
October 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia was rocked today when the former official who publicly accused President Mikheil Saakashvili of ordering the assassination of a political opponent recanted in a videotaped confession broadcast on national television.
Irakli Okruashvili, who was arrested on corruption charges just two days after his sensational claims, said his allegations about the president were lies and that he himself was guilty of extortion and negligence.
Visibly distressed and sinking into long pauses, Okruashvili -- the man once described by Saakashvili as "one of the best organizers, managers, and ministers" in his government -- denied each of the televised accusations he leveled against the Georgian president on September 25.
In a videotaped interrogation by the Prosecutor-General's Office, Okruashvili was asked about his claims that Saakashvili ordered the killing of business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili. He was also asked about his suggestion that former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, who was found dead of apparent gas poisoning in February 2005, was the victim of politically motivated murder. Last but not least, he was asked if there was any truth to his claims that Saakashvili is deeply involved in corruption and attempts to discredit clerics in the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Okruashvili's answer to each of the questions was straightforward. His statements -- made on the day he announced the formation of a new opposition party -- were false and meant purely for political gain.
"These statements were aimed at gaining political dividends and putting myself in a favorable political situation," he said. "Time after time I was holding meetings with Badri Patarkatsishvili -- both in Tbilisi and abroad -- and the statement about his liquidation was intended to help him obtain political dividends. This also meant that I was going to have support from Patarkatsishvili's television company [Imedi TV] for my political activity. During the meetings with him I was informing him about my political plans."
Shocking About-Face, Confession
Okruashvili's sweeping repudiation was nearly as dramatic as the original allegations. Moreover, they were accompanied by a guilty plea to charges leveled by the state when he was arrested two days after making his claims.
Prosecutors said Okruashvili pleaded guilty to corruption charges, including extortion and negligence, while serving as defense minister from December 2004 to the beginning of November 2006. Okruashvili is also charged with money laundering and abuse of power.
Deputy Prosecutor-General Nika Gvaramia announced that Okruashvili, who spent 10 days in pretrial detention, had agreed to cooperate with the investigation and is due to be released pending payment of bail amounting to some $5.6 million, which Gvaramia described as "an unprecedented amount for Georgia."
Gvaramia said prosecutors were also responding to the "legitimate interest" of the public and lawmakers by launching an investigation into Okruashvili's claims. He added, however, that Okruashvili had failed to provide any substantial evidence to back up his allegations.
Okruashvili's lawyer, Eka Beselia, said she was not allowed to be present during her client's interrogation, and claims his confession was made under pressure. Today's videotape, however, shows Okruashvili agreeing to the presence of a prosecutor-appointed lawyer, Givi Papuashvili.
The Georgian political opposition, which had briefly rallied around Okruashvili following his arrest, has yet to respond to today's televised confession.
Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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