A former member of the United National Movement, MP Pavle Kublashvili, in his speech before the Parliament of Georgia, stated: "Now, we have a situation that Gigi Ugulava is being held in pre-trial detention whilst he was not convicted of a single charge presented against him. Also, one of the charges, which at the initial phase did not envisage preventive measures according to the Prosecutor’s Office, was activated and a renewed nine-month pre-trial custody was demanded. That is constitutionally banned. An individual does not have to serve more than nine months in pre-trial detention."

FactCheck

verified the accuracy of Pavle Kublashvili’s statement.

From 2013 to today, Gigi Ugulava has been accused in five different criminal cases. At the same time, the court has not issued a verdict on any of these cases. Of note is that a nine-month pre-trial detention was given to Mr Ugulava initially as a preventive measure and for only one case (i.e., money laundering and the so-called "Marneuli incident"). The aforementioned pre-trial detention expired on 2 April 2015.

According to the 13 March 2015 decision of the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia, one of the criminal cases against Gigi Ugulava (presented on 28 July 2014 about exceeding official powers) was increased with the addition of charges of embezzlement (the so-called Mtatsminda Park property embezzlement case) and assistance in the legalisation of illegal revenues (the so-called TV Imedi case).

On 14 March 2015, the Prosecutor’s Office addressed the court and requested that the nine-month pre-trial detention for Gigi Ugulava for the aforementioned charges be renewed. On 15 March 2015 the judge satisfied the request of the Prosecutor’s Office. According to the statement issued by the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia, pre-trial detention was not initially requested for these charges as Mr Ugulava had already been taken into custody.

According to the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia (Article 103), an investigative organ is authorised to conduct an investigation within a reasonable period of time, adjust the factual circumstances and change the qualification of a crime if necessary. Additionally, any request which aims to artificially protract the criminal proceedings has to be rejected (Article 94). In every specific case, it is exclusively up to the judge to determine whether or not an artificial protraction of criminal proceedings does indeed take place.

Of further note is that plenty of statements on this issue have been made both by local NGOs and representatives of those states with good relations with Georgia. These statements assert that the factual circumstances in the case against Gigi Ugulava raise reasonable doubt that the criminal proceedings against him have been artificially protracted. At the same time, they note that the unlimited usage of pre-trial detention when the accused has not yet been proven guilty contradicts the Constitution of Georgia and the European Convention on Human Rights. According to the Constitution of Georgia, pre-trial detention for an accused individual should not exceed nine months. After this term has expired, the accused must then be released from custody.

On 14 March 2015, the Embassy of the United States of America to Georgia released a statement which says: "Additional charges against former Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, in particular, appear to be an effort to subvert the nine-month limit on pre-trial detention which should have expired in April 2015. At the same time, the Embassy encourages the Government of Georgia to take steps to strengthen the rule of law and avoid any perception it may be engaging in a campaign of politically-motivated justice."

On 9 March 2015 the Chair of the European People’s Party’s faction of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Manfred Weber, addressed the Prime Minister of Georgia with a letter. The letter emphasises that bringing new charges against a major political figure solely aimed at keeping him in detention will be viewed as proof of politically-motivated prosecution.

On 16 March 2015, 17 members of the European Parliament addressed the Government of Georgia with an open letter. In the letter, MPs underscore that a new case was instituted against Mr Ugulava in order to seek a new pre-trial detention term with the sole purpose of keeping him in detention. The authors conclude that keeping anyone indefinitely in pre-trial detention without his being convicted contradicts Georgia’s own constitution and European practice.

In a statement issued by NGOs, it is noted that the factual circumstances and the evidence which serve as the basis for the Prosecutor’s decrees of 2014 and 2015 are mainly the same. This raises reasonable doubt about the fact that the criminal case was divided into three parts in order to enable the Prosecutor’s Office to use pre-trial detention at any convenient time.

In his interview with FactCheck,

Gigi Ugulava’s lawyer, Beka Basilia, underlined that in the period between 28 July 2014 and 13 March 2015 not a single piece of new evidence against Mr Ugulava was obtained. Mr Basilia said that he had already filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court of Georgia. The lawsuit was filed against those clauses comprising the basis for the prolongation of Mr Ugulava’s pre-trial detention.

The Trial Monitoring Report Georgia of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, published at the end of 2014, asserts that no one should be deprived of the right to liberty in an arbitrary fashion or without due justification. Additionally, a less restrictive measure should be used as a preventive measure and in the case of detention, the shorter term has to be applied. Therefore, pre-trial detention should not be used for punishment. In order to punish an accused individual, a court has to pronounce him guilty. The European Court of Human Rights considers

it to be an infringement of an individual’s liberty when the accused is in prison without being convicted only because a prosecutor failed to obtain and present sufficient evidence.

Conclusion

The nine-month pre-trial detention term for Gigi Ugulava for one of the criminal charges presented against him expired on 2 April 2015. On 15 March 2015, the judge satisfied a new request from the Prosecutor’s Office to renew Mr Ugulava’s nine-month pre-trial detention. Up until now, the former Mayor of Tbilisi has not been convicted of any of the charges put against him.

Every legal norm in legislation is considered to be constitutional unless the Constitutional Court of Georgia rules against. Therefore, it is an exclusive right of the court to assert whether or not the prolongation of Gigi Ugulava’s pre-trial detention is unconstitutional. At the present moment, the Prosecutor’s Office is not violating the law. However, the big question is whether or not the respective legal norm is indeed constitutional.

FactCheck

took the principles and approaches enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia into consideration whilst working on this article. The Constitution of Georgia considers the arbitrary use of power by the executive branch of the government as unacceptable and unjustified as well as being a disproportional infringement of an individual’s liberty. Therefore, the individual is protected from the arbitrary deprivation of his liberty from the state.

In statements issued by local NGOs and representatives of those states with good relations with Georgia, emphasis is placed on the factual evidence which raises reasonable doubt that the investigation is being artificially protracted as well as on the fact that purposely holding an individual in pre-trial detention upon the basis of a protracted investigation breaches the constitutional right of the accused.

FactCheck concludes that Pavle Kublashvili’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.

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