January 6, 2017 / 5:14 PM / a year ago

Georgian opposition figure walks free after court cuts fraud sentence

TBILISI (Reuters) - Jailed Georgian opposition figure Gigi Ugulava walked free after a court cut his sentence on Friday, cheered by supporters who said his prosecution for misspending public funds had been politically motivated.

Fellow members of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) chanted “Gigi! Gigi!” as the former mayor of the capital Tbilisi left its main prison.

“I’d like to express my solidarity to all other political prisoners who are still in jail,” Ugulava told reporters.

Ugulava was one of dozens of senior figures including a former prime minister arrested on charges including fraud and abuse of office after a UNM-led government lost an election in Oct. 2012.

The next government led by Bidzina Ivanishvili denied accusations from Washington, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe that it was cracking down on opponents.

Two other prime ministers have led the former Soviet republic since then, and have continued to come under pressure from Western powers over the arrests.

Ugulava was initially sentenced to four and a half years in prison - but the Tbilisi city court of appeal agreed to release him two years early on Friday.

Prosecutors had said Ugulava misspent 4.1 million lari ($1.5 million) of public funds by creating more than 700 fictitious jobs and using the cash to pay UNM party activists. He regularly denied the charge.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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