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Why did Okruashvili "attack" Saakashvili?

21:34 26/09/2007
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yelena Shesternina) - Former Georgian Minister of Defense and long-time critic of Moscow Irakly Okruashvili has lashed out at his former associate President Mikheil Saakashvili.

At the presentation of his party For United Georgia, he accused the head of state of almost every mortal sin - corruption, lobbying the interests of his own family (ostensibly, three years ago Okruashvili caught the president's uncle red-handed with a $200,000 bribe but had to hush up the scandal at the president's request), cowardice in resolving the territorial issue and lack of morals, to name but a few.

Now everyone in Georgia is wondering what will happen to Okruashvili and whether he has not signed a verdict for himself with these revelations.

Okruashvili saved the worst incriminating evidence for the Imedi TV channel. He said that Saakashvili had allegedly told him to eliminate Badri Patarkatsishvili - a well-known businessman with close links to Boris Berezovsky, a man who is sought by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office.

Okruashvili made another equally impressive revelation by disclosing the details of the death of Zurab Zhvania. He did not dare accuse the president of murdering the former prime minister but hinted that the authorities had been involved in this mysterious story. Okruashvili said that Zhvania's corpse had been taken to the apartment where he was found dead (officially he died of accidental poisoning with carbon monoxide).

Finally, the new opponent of the Georgian president exposed the government's plan to finally resolve the South Ossetian problem. It appears that when he spoke about his intention to celebrate the New Year in his homeland, South Ossetia, he really meant it. It transpires that the authorities had a detailed military plan of bringing South Ossetia back under Tbilisi's control in the spring of 2006: "We were just a step away from the settlement of the territorial problem and would have resolved it if it were not for the helpless president, who was afraid of making a historical political decision."

It is hard to say where Okruashvili is telling the truth and where he is settling accounts. The version about Zhvania's murder is far from new, just as the plans of war against South Ossetia and Abkhazia. For example, at the time of the Georgian operation in the Kodori Gorge led by Okruashvili and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, there were apprehensions that the Georgian troops might move further to Sukhumi.

It is easier to guess why Okruashvili decided to make these sensational statements today. He kept quiet for almost a year after leaving the government, where he had served first as the defense minister and then as the minister of economic development (he lasted a week in the latter position). A little more than a year is left before the presidential elections in Georgia in the autumn of 2008 or winter 2009. Apparently, Okruashvili has made up his mind to take an active part in them in the hope of being elected president.

It has been quite obvious for some time that clouds were gathering over Georgia and thunder was about to strike. As soon as Okruashvili made it clear that he was not going to sit in the shadow and was ready to go into tough opposition, the authorities and law-enforcement bodies started paying increasing attention to him and to his entourage.

Two deputy defense ministers - Alexander Sukhitashvili and Levan Nikoleishvili - were dismissed in July, and some experts think they are linked with Okruashvili.

Former Poti Mayor David Kantaria was arrested in August. Former Georgian envoy to Shida-Kartly (a region bordering on South Ossetia) Mikhail Kareli was detained in the airport last week. He is also linked with the former defense minister. Now instead of going to Istanbul he is facing a prospect of spending 15 years in prison on charges of corruption.

Finally, on Tuesday the authorities arrested the Georgian president's press secretary Dimitry Kitoshvili. Although Okruashvili denies any association with him, they are likely to have a lot in common. Kitoshvili was accused of abusing power. At the 2004 elections, he was the secretary of the Central Election Committee - Saakashvili was elected by more than 90%.

Unofficially, Georgian policymakers say that it may be Okruashvili's turn now and that the Prosecutor-General's Office has ostensibly received incriminating materials against him. This is quite possible considering that the authorities have already prepared the ground for such arrests by announcing a "crackdown on corruption."

The question is whether Saakashvili, who was in New York at the peak of the scandal, will dare arrest Okruashvili after all these revelations. The new opposition may see it as retaliation, and he will be hard put to prove the opposite.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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