Ex-Georgian Minister is Freed on Bail

ReutersOpposition supporters holding posters reading "I am not afraid" at the parliament building in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia's former defense minister was freed on a multimillion-dollar bail early Tuesday after retracting accusations against the president of corruption and a murder plot.

Georgian news reports said Irakly Okruashvili had left the country with his family shortly after being released, but his lawyer said he stayed home.

Okruashvili was arrested Sept. 27, the day after he made the accusations, which were dismissed by President Mikheil Saakashvili as "unpardonable lies."

Okruashvili was charged with extortion, money laundering and abuse of power.

On Monday, Nika Gvaramia, Georgia's deputy chief prosecutor, said Okruashvili had retracted his accusations and admitted that he made them for political purposes.

Gvaramia also said Okruashvili had pleaded guilty to charges of extortion and failure to properly perform his duties.

Georgian television stations on Monday broadcast footage of the questioning in which Okruashvili retracted his accusations. Okruashvili, wearing a tracksuit, looked tense and tired but spoke clearly.

He took back his allegations of corruption and his claim that Saakashvili in 2005 tried to encourage him to kill Badri Patarkatsishvili, a prominent businessman.

A court in the capital, Tbilisi, ruled Monday to free Okruashvili on bail equivalent to $6 million. Okruashvili was freed overnight after the bail was paid and was escorted home by police.

He refused to answer reporters' questions.

The Georgian Pirveli news agency quoted Okruashvili's bodyguards as saying he had left the country with his family, but Okruashvili's lawyer, Eka Beselia, said he stayed home.

Beselia told reporters that she visited Okruashvili at his home in Tbilisi and that he told her he did not know who had paid the bail. She added that Okruashvili's behavior seemed "abnormal," but didn't elaborate.

Speaking on a visit to Copenhagen on Tuesday, Saakashvili said Okruashvili's release and the allegations he retracted were a test case for Georgia.

"It is a great test for the rule of law in Georgia," Saakashvili said after a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

He repeated that Okruashvili "had zero proof of anything."

"If you cannot produce evidence, then you should retract that allegation," Saakashvili told reporters.

Several top figures in the main pro-government party, meanwhile, on Monday accused Patarkatsishvili of being behind Okruashvili's claims, suggesting he was seeking political power.

Patarkatsishvili was suspended Tuesday from his post as chairman of the nation's Olympic committee.