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Published:January 16th, 2008 04:18 EST
Irakly Okruashvili, the Georgian ex-defense minister

Irakly Okruashvili, the Georgian ex-defense minister

By SOP newswire

A court in France will begin a hearing in late January in the case of Irakly Okruashvili, the Georgian ex-defense minister and opposition leader seeking political asylum, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Okruashvili, once a key ally of newly-reelected Georgian leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, is in a French jail after his extradition from Germany, where he was arrested in late November at the request of Georgian authorities. He has been charged by the Caucasus state with the abuse of office, money laundering and corruption.

"French defense lawyers are preparing an appeal against Okruashvili's arrest and a request that he be released from jail," Yekaterina Beseliya told Georgia's Mze television. "Preliminary hearings on the case will take place in about 10 days."

The TV channel said the lawyers had prepared documents requesting political asylum for Okruashvili in France.

Okruashvili was deported from Germany to France, where he had been issued a Schengen visa, on January 9 after he had requested political asylum in Berlin. Under an agreement between countries within the Schengen visa-free zone, a request for political asylum is reviewed by the country that issued the visa to the person making the claim.

Beseliya said Georgia had not so far requested Okruashvili's extradition from France.

Okruashvili was initially arrested in Georgia in September after publicly accusing President Saakashvili of ordering the murders of political opponents and of plotting to seize a breakaway region. He later backed down on the accusations, and was released on $6 million bail. He subsequently fled Georgia.

Okruashvili's accusations sparked mass street protests in the Georgian capital Tbilisi in early November. Saakashvili called early elections to defuse the situation after riot police had brutally dispersed protesters and a state of emergency was briefly imposed. Saakashvili won the January 5 snap election with 53% of the vote.