The FINANCIAL -- The Tbilisi city court has found former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili guilty of abuse of power in connection with a 2006 murder case and sentenced him in absentia to three years in prison.
Judge Giorgi Arevadze on January 5 announced the verdict against Saakashvili, Georgia's president from 2004 until 2013, convicting him of abusing his presidential powers by trying to cover up evidence about the murder of Georgian banker Sandro Girgvliani, and issuing pardons for four men who were convicted of the killing.
Saakashvili, who rejects the charges as politically motivated, said on January 5 that his conviction was the result of pressure from one of his major political opponents in Georgia, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who Saakashvili linked to Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom, according to RFE/RL's Georgian Service.
"The so-called 'ruling' against me by a Georgian court that is fully under control of Gazprom-shareholder Ivanishvili is absolutely illegal and contradicts all international and domestic regulations and common sense," Saakashvili wrote on Facebook from Ukraine, where he currently resides and is an opposition politician.
"The trial of a president for using his right to pardon, which is not limited by any means, shows that the case is fully politically motivated," Saakashvili said. "It also shows that Georgian authorities have not been able to find anything against me in the last five years -- neither facts of corruption nor other violations of the law."
Saakashvili said a simultaneous court hearing against him in Kyiv showed that "oligarchic authorities in Ukraine and Georgia are operating in synchronicity and in full coordination with each other" against him because he is "the leader of a battle against corruption, oligarchs, and the robbery of the people."
Saakashvili said the world knew that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has been demanding both Georgian and Ukrainian authorities to implement repressive measures" against him.
Putin "repeated that in his recent press conference," the 50-year-old Saakashvili said, claiming that talks aimed at "neutralizing" him were conducted between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Ivanishvili in Georgia several days before Poroshenko issued an order to strip him of his Ukrainian citizenship last summer.
"According to my sources, [the issue was also discussed] by Poroshenko and Putin in a telephone conversation on December 29, 2017," Saakashvili wrote.
Saakashvili's government-appointed lawyer, Sofio Goglichidze, said after the ruling that the court violated "a number of legal provisions and the constitution" in convicting former Georgian president.
"It is obvious that political persecution is going against Mikheil Saakashvili. It was impossible to deliver a guilty verdict in the case in accordance with the law," Goglichidze said.
Girgvliani, who headed the foreign department of United Georgian Bank, was found dead in January 2006 outside of Tbilisi with multiple injuries after he was seen arguing in a bar with high-ranking Interior Ministry officials.
Saakashvili was the president of Georgia when Girgvliani was killed and issued presidential pardons for four Georgian men who were convicted of murder in the case in 2006.
In November 2014, when Saakashvili was no longer the Georgian president, prosecutors charged him and other former Georgian officials of being accomplices in the falsification of evidence presented in the murder trial.
Khatia Dekanoidze, a member of Saakashvili's United National Movement party in Georgia, said the January 5 verdict in Tbilisi might help Ukrainian authorities extradite Saakashvili to Georgia.
"Nobody doubts that the charge was motivated and ordered," said Dekanoidze, who served as the head of the Ukrainian National Police when Saakashvili was governor of Ukraine's Odesa region in 2015-16.
"I do not exclude Mikheil Saakashvili's extradition [to Georgia] because the administrative resources of the two countries are working together" against him, Dekanoidze said in Tbilisi.
But Saakashvili's lawyer in Ukraine, Ruslan Chornolutskiy, told RFE/RL on January 5 that his clients legal status should prevent his extradition to Georgia.
"According to Ukrainian laws, a person who was a Ukrainian citizen and for the last several years resided in Ukraine cannot be extradited," Chornolutskiy told RFE/RL. "That is what the law says on foreigners and individuals without citizenship, as well as the international convention that Ukraine has ratified."
In Ukraine, Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko has accused Saakashvili of abetting an alleged "criminal group" led by Ukraine's pro-Russia former president. Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after his ouster in February 2014.
Ukrainian authorities also claim that protests led by Saakashvili in Ukraine are part of a Russian plot against the government in Kyiv.
Saakashvili on January 3 accused Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) of being involved in the fabrication evidence presented against him by Ukrainian authorities in Kyiv's ongoing criminal trial against him.
He did not provide evidence to back up the assertion.
With reporting by Apsny.ge and Newsgeorgia.ge