France: Former Georgian Defense Minister Arrested
French authorities arrested Davit Kezerashvili, former Defense Minister of the Republic of Georgia, in the southern city of Nice on Monday. A French court ordered the detention of Kezerashvili, whose extradition is sought by the Georgian government, according to the news website Civil Georgia.
Kezerashvili, 35, was taken into custody after French police halted him at an airport in southern France following a border check. The subject of an international arrest warrant regarding charges of alleged bribe taking and customs violations, Kezerashvili allegedly accepted US$12.3 million in bribes for protecting an ethyl alcohol smuggling operation from 2007 to 2012. Civil Georgia reports that the smuggling scheme may have cost Georgia $29.8 million in unpaid taxes.
Along with Mayor of Tbilisi Giorgi "Gigi" Ugulava, Kezerashvili was also charged with misappropriation of state funds and money laundering in a separate case.
Kezerashvili served in the finance ministry from 2004 to 2006, including a stint as chief of the financial police, and as Defense Minister from 2006 until 2008. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that he is a close associate of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who is scheduled to leave office on October 27.
Georgia is expected to file a formal extradition request within forty days of the arrest. The Georgian prosecutor's office noted that Kezerashvili holding Israeli citizenship should not impede the process.
Kezerashvili's defense lawyer said charges against his client were "politically motivated."