Will Saakashvili Be Extradited?
16 January, 2018

For the last several months, former Georgian president and Odesa region governor Mikheil Saakashvili has been residing in Ukraine on questionable legal grounds. Over the summer, President Petro Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizen. Since then, the politician has been stateless, without any form of citizenship. However, in September, Saakashvili’s supporters literally pulled him through the border and onto Ukrainian territory.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Immediately after his return to Ukraine, Saakashvili’s lawyers filed several lawsuits with Ukrainian courts in order to legitimize the politician’s stay in the country and protect him from possible extradition to Georgia, where he faces criminal charges many regard as politically motivated.  

So far, however, Saakashvili’s legal efforts have been unsuccessful. That leaves open the question: will he be deported or extradited? Hromadske takes a closer look.

What Is Saakashvili’s Legal Status?

Mikheil Saakashvili is currently stateless. At the end of October, he sent an appeal to the State Migration Service requesting recognition as a refugee or the status of someone who requires additional legal protection. The State Migration Service denied this request, so Saakashvili’s lawyers filed a lawsuit with the court.

On January 3, the regional administrative court refused outright to recognise Saakashvili as a refugee or person requiring additional protection. The former Georgian president’s defense then announced that they were already appealing the decision.

READ MORE: Saakashvili-Led Protesters Clash With Police During Attempted Theater Siege

“Essentially, he is now a person who has submitted an appeal and is waiting for a decision on whether or not he will be granted refugee status or the status of someone who requires additional protection,” lawyer Vasyl Cherednichenko told Hromadske. “So, if the appeal court rules in his favor, then he will be granted this status. However, if they do not grant him this status, he will have thirty days to leave Ukraine. If he does not leave Ukraine in this time, they will decide to forcibly remove him from Ukraine.”

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Thus, until the appeals court makes its decision, Saakashvili has the right to remain within the territory of Ukraine.

It is important to note that expulsion and extradition are two different procedures. Expulsion implies that the person has committed an administrative offense, and, as a result, has been asked to voluntarily leave the country. If they refuse, they then could be forcibly expelled.

Extradition involves the arrest and transfer of a person to another state, usually at the request of that state’s government. Typically, the person who is extradited is suspected, accused, or has been found guilty of a crime.

Could Saakashvili be extradited to Georgia?

On January 5, a Tbilisi court sentenced Mikheil Saakashvili in absentia to three years imprisonment. The court found Saakashvili guilty of violating the law on “abuse of official power.”

The charges against Saakashvili were connected with the 2006 abduction and murder of bank worker Sandro Girgvliani. According to the criminal investigation, four senior officials from the Georgian Interior Ministry were involved in the crime: Gia Alaniya, Avtandil Aptsiauri, Aleksandre Kachava and Mikheil Bibiluri. They were later detained and held in custody.

READ MORE: Judge Frees Saakashvili From Detention

However, three years later, Saakashvili pardoned close to 170 former police and law enforcement officers, including those involved in the Girgvliani murder. According to the Georgian prosecution, Saakashvili did this by bypassing the pardon commission, a violation of the law.

Saakashvili himself wrote on Facebook that he considers the Georgian court’s decision unlawful and believes that it violates “all international and national norms and common sense.”

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

Immediately after Saakashvili was found guilty, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office stated that it was carrying out an extradition check on Saakashvili following the Georgian court decision.

According to Andriy Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, Saakashvili was invited to the prosecutor’s office to give a statement regarding the Kurchenko case on December 27. However, on the advice of the his lawyers, this was postponed.

“Conclusions reached on the basis of the extradition check will be given to the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice for the final decision to be made [on Saakashvili’s extradition to Georgia],” Lysenko says.  

The politician’s lawyers consider the extradition check on Saakashvili illegal.

“The petition from Georgia arrived on September 1. In October, Ukraine began the extradition check. According to the law, this should take sixty days, [but] this period has long passed,” Saakashvili’s lawyer, Ruslan Chornolutsky, told Hromadske. “However, this extradition check, as we are unofficially aware of, continued and is still ongoing. It should be kept in mind that Ukraine has already refused to extradite [Saakashvili] to Georgia twice before, in 2014 and 2015. [Ukraine] refused to carry out these checks.”

READ MORE: The Ukrainian Authorities Take On Anti-Corruption and Saakashvili

Additionally, according Ukrainian legislation, Saakashvili cannot currently be extradited to Georgia while he remains a suspect in another case under investigation by the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office and Security Service of Ukraine. Investigators believe fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko gave Saakashvili $500 thousand through an intermediary as payment to carry out protests against the authorities in Ukraine. However, Saakashvili denies these accusations.

“There is a criminal proceeding taking place in Ukraine. Therefore, this is the reason for rejecting the extradition request. He is currently under formal suspicion, but that suspicion could be cancelled and then he could be handed over to Georgia. This is actually a game of chess,” commented lawyer Cherednichenko.

Additionally, Saakashvili figures into two other criminal proceedings in Ukraine. The first is connected to clashes between his supporters and law enforcement. Some of the more radically-minded backers of Saakashvili’s “March for Impeachment” — which calls for Poroshenko to be removed from office — attempted to force their way into the October Palace theater in central Kyiv last month. Saakashvili has stated that he is a witness in this case.

Photo credit: Dmytro Replianchuk/HROMADSKE

The second case concerns events during Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan revolution. “I am also there as a witness,” Saakashvili said. “The case relates to the so-called ‘Georgian snipers’ in the shootings on [Independence Square]...There are no Georgian snipers. They are Russian actors, officers from the Main Intelligence Directorate, or other spies. And an Italian television channel made a program about this using Russian propaganda. After that, all the facts are being checked in Ukraine.”   

Serhiy Gorbatiuk, the head of the Prosecutor General’s Special Investigations Department, confirmed to Hromadske that Saakashvili is indeed a witness in the case regarding the snipers on Independence Square.

“In the framework of the investigation it was necessary to check this information [about the Italian report],” Horbatiuk said. “Preliminary evidence suggests that this information may, in fact, be a fabrication. However, as investigators, we are required to check. As a result, we summoned him for questioning and he clarified the situation for us.”

Saakashvili’s lawyer, Chornolutsky, notes that, while the judicial proceedings involving Saakashvili are ongoing, he will remain in Ukraine. “For the entire duration of these appeals and court cases, Ukraine does not have the right to expel him.”

/By Dmytro Replianchuk

/Translated and adapted by Sofia Fedeczko and Matthew Kupfer