The FINANCIAL — Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who is now an outspoken Ukrainian opposition figure, has accused Russia’s lead security agency of helping to fabricate evidence used against his ongoing criminal prosecution.
Saakashvili made the accusation to reporters after a January 3 hearing at Kyiv’s Appeals Court where prosecutors asked the court to place Saakashvili under house arrest for refusing to answer questions from the Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU. He did not provide evidence to back up the assertion.
Judges adjourned the hearing at the request of prosecutors until January 11 without issuing a ruling.
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko has accused Saakashvili, the former governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region, of abetting an alleged “criminal group” led by Ukraine’s 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, according to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.
Part of the evidence presented in the case is a recording of an alleged telephone conversation between Saakashvili and a pro-Russian Ukrainian businessman who is hiding in Russia.
Lutsenko has charged that the businessman, Serhiy Kurchenko, offered Saakashvili money to organize protests and public disorder in Ukraine, and that Saakashvili accepted a half-million-dollar payment.
Saakashvili, who attended the January 3 Kyiv hearing with his wife and a son, denies all charges.
He told reporters after the hearing that the forensic evidence presented by prosecutors was flawed.
Saakashvili also alleged that the evidence against him was fabricated by the SBU “with the involvement of” the FSB.
“The so-called forensics saying it was proven that my so-called conversation with Kurchenko was authentic has a lot of flaws,” Saakashvili said.
“First of all, I refused to give them a voice sample when I was interrogated by the SBU security service,” he said.
“In spite of that, they were able to present forensic conclusions saying that the voice on the tape is mine,” Saakashvili said. “But their own expert says in the documentation that the forensic team didn’t have a proper voice sample to make a thorough analysis.”
“This reminds me of the old Soviet style when authorities proved the authenticity of whatever they themselves claimed,” he said.
There was no comment from the FSB to Saakashvili’s accusation.
Meanwhile, the Kyiv District Administrative Court on January 3 turned down an appeal filed by Saakashvili to recognize him as a refugee or “person in need of additional protection,” Interfax news agency reported.
Saakashvili has said Ukrainian authorities were seeking to deny him the protection status to “create conditions” for his “expulsion from the country” so he can be extradited to Tbilisi, where he faces multiple charges — including abuse of his presidential powers and complicity in the 2006 murder of a Georgian banker.
“Ten minutes ago a trial against me started in Tbilisi, the same time as in Kyiv,” Saakashvili said during his Kyiv hearing on January 3. “Do you think it’s by chance? Oligarchs are able to make deals. But they could have at least decided on different times.”
On December 18, Saakashvili appeared at the Prosecutor-General’s Office in Kyiv but refused to answer questions from investigators there.
He told reporters on December 18 that he would give testimony only when the case was handed over to the SBU, “as required by law.”
Saakashvili was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013.
He gave up his Georgian passport in 2015 when he accepted Ukrainian citizenship in order to take the post of Odesa governor at the request of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Saakashvili resigned from the Odesa post in November 2016, complaining of rampant corruption, and has since become an ardent opponent of Poroshenko.
With reporting by Merkhat Sharipzhanov and Interfax