Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgian Sent Home For Shevardnadze Plot

Russian police extradited Georgia's former finance minister Thursday and stepped up its hunt for the republic's ex-security chief. Both are suspected of involvement in two separate assassination attempts on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

A team of Georgian law enforcers flew former finance chief Guram Absandze from Moscow to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, where he stands accused of involvement in the Feb. 4 attack on Sheverdnadze's motorcade. In addition, he faces a trial on charges of embezzlement, involvement in five murders and state treason.

Russian television showed Absandze arriving at the Tbilisi airport Thursday afternoon with his hands uncuffed. He was whisked away to a high-security detention facility.

Absandze was a close ally of late Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. He funded Gamsakhurdia's armed attempt to seize the presidential office back from Shevardnadze in 1993 and had to flee Georgia after the coup attempt was foiled.

As of late Thursday, Russian law enforcers were still looking for the former chief of Georgia's security service, Igor Giorgadze, who is alleged to have organized a bomb attack on Shevardnadze in Tbilisi in August 1994.

Giorgadze fled from Georgia to Russia after that abortive attack, but he is believed to be currently residing in Austria, according to Russian press reports.

Russia's decision to extradite is widely thought to have been politically motivated. Sheverdnadze had earlier threatened to boycott a summit of former Soviet republics in Moscow, scheduled for this week, over what he argued was Moscow's lack of cooperation in tracking down those who organized the assassination attempt.

The extradition was greeted with a hail of criticism from Russian and Western human rights organizations, which said Absandze faces being subjected to torture in Georgian jails.

But the Kremlin said Thursday it had no sympathy for Shevardnadze's opponents. "Moscow sees no reasons to have warm feelings for Georgian opposition figures," President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said at a Kremlin briefing.

In a surprise move, Georgian law enforcers have decided not to demand the extradition of another one of their compatriots, Nemo Borchuladze, who was seized by Russian police Wednesday. Borchuladze was prime minister in Gamsakhurdia's government.

Georgian prosecutors said Borchuladze, once accused of state treason, has been removed from the wanted list for helping Shevardnadze's government to negotiate the release of four UN observers taken hostage last month in Georgia by supporters of the late Gamsakhurdia. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office said it will release Borchuladze from a Moscow detention facility provided that he goes to Tbilisi for interrogation.

Human rights activists both in Russia and the West said Absandze's extradition contravenes the 1984 International Convention Against Torture, to which Russia is a signatory.

The convention bars extradition if there is a possibility that the suspect would be tortured.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki last year submitted reports to the United Nations pointing to cases of torture in Georgian jails.

Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze said Thursday that "those political circles who fear for the life and safety [of Absandze] should not be afraid" because nothing will be done to him.

Human Rights watchdogs met this statement with skepticism. "The risk [of Absandze being mistreated] is still too great considering Georgia's torture record," said Diederik Lohman, director of Human Rights Watch/ Helsinki's Moscow office

Russian Foreign Ministry sources denied there was a political subtext to the extradition.

The move may help, however, to improve "the political component" of Russia's complicated relations with Georgia, conceded an official who oversees Georgia at Russia's CIS Ministry. The official asked to remain anonymous.

Moscow has been criticized for using the rump Gamsakhurdia government to manipulate policy in Tbilisi.

They noted, however, that the extradition signaled no strategic shift in Russia's policy in the region, but was a merely tactical maneuver aimed at appeasing Shevardnadze.