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Georgian Court Acquits Former Defense Minister, Army Chief

Aug. 1, 2013 - 09:07AM   |  
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TBILISI — A Georgian court on Thursday found an ex-defense minister and former army chief not guilty of abuse of power in one of the highest-profile trials against top allies of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Former defense minister Bacho Akhalaia was cleared along with ex-chief of staff Giorgi Kalandadze on charges of exceeding his official powers, illegal confinement and torture in three cases involving the alleged abuse of soldiers and abduction of a businessman.

Akhalaia remains in custody as he is facing trial on further torture and abuse of office charges in connection with two additional cases involving the alleged abuse of servicemen and suppression of a prison riot.

The trial was the result of one of a number of investigations launched against senior allies of Saakashvili, whose United National Movement (UNM) party lost to a coalition headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili at parliamentary elections in October.

Former prime minister Vano Merabishvili, one of Saakashvili's closest allies, is in jail awaiting trial on abuse of power and graft charges.

Saakashvili, who must step down when his second and last term expires this autumn, has dismissed the investigations as a political witch hunt against himself and officials from his government.

Western officials have previously expressed concern over any investigations that could be perceived as politically motivated.

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