Georgia under EU scrutiny after more allies of president are arrested
Political conflict since the Georgian Dream party defeated the United National Movement last October
Former Georgian prime minister Ivane Merabishvili (C) listens to his lawyer during a preliminary hearing of his case. Photograph: Irakli Gedenidze
The European Union has warned Georgia that it is under close scrutiny after two more of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s closest allies were arrested in what he calls a witch-hunt by prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The Black Sea state’s leaders have been at loggerheads since the Georgian Dream party, formed by billionaire businessman Mr Ivanishvili, defeated Mr Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) in last October’s general election.
Since then, parliament has transferred many of the president’s powers to the prime minister and dozens of Mr Saakashvili’s former officials have been arrested on charges ranging from abuse of power to illegal confinement. Mr Ivanishvili has also backed a full investigation into Mr Saakashvili’s handling of Georgia’s disastrous 2008 war with Russia.
Former PM Ivane Merabishvili and ex-health minister Zurab Chiaberashvili were arrested on Tuesday for alleged misuse of public funds during last year’s election campaign.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and enlargement chief Stefan Füle used a joint statement to “underline their expectation that the Georgian authorities will pursue justice . . . free from political motivation”.