vano merabishvili --

The two defendants, Vano Merabishvili (left) and Zurab Chiaberashvili, at an earlier court appearance. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–Former Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili used an employment program as a way to campaign for the National Movement party ahead of the October 2012 parliamentary election.

This is the conclusion of Kutaisi City Court in a trial that has lasted four months. The court sentenced Merabishvili to five years in jail and issued a 50 000 lari (USD 30 000) fine to former Kakheti Governor Zurab Chiaberashvili, who was charged with him in the same case.

Merabishvili was found guilty in each of the charges of violating property rights, appropriation and embezzlement of state money and bribery of voters. In each case, the longest possible sentence was set; three years, ten years and two years in jail, respectively.

Following the principle of concurrent sentencing, which was introduced by the new government about a year ago, the strictest punishment of ten years “absorbed” the other sentences, and in addition, because Merabishvili is covered by the 2012 amnesty law, also introduced by the new government, the final sentence was reduced to half, or five years in jail.

According to the court’s statement, the serving of the sentence will be counted from the day he was detained, May 21, 2013. He will have to serve four years and three months in jail. The court also deprived Merabishvili of the right to hold public office for a year and six months.

Chiaberashvili was also found guilty as charged, but subject to less strict punishment; the court set a 50 000 lari fine. The court also changed a charge against him from abuse of power to negligence.

The Prosecutor’s Office plans to appeal the ruling about changing the charges.

Lawyers for both the accused will appeal the decision.

Chiaberashvili said after the hearing that he is innocent but expected such a decision for both of them, because, he claimed, the government is harassing the court.

Merabishvili didn’t attend today’s hearing. At an earlier court appearance, he claimed that the judge is being pressured by the government. “All my relatives were dismissed or are being prosecuted under criminal law. […] Mr Judge, I doubt you can make a fair decision with so much pressure,” he said.

Merabishvili and Chiaberashvili were detained in May, 2013. Prosecutors said an employment program run by the former government was actually part of the National Movement’s election campaign.