Georgia detains former minister on suspicion of power abuse

TBILISI Tue Nov 6, 2012 6:13pm EST

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TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's new government detained a former interior minister on Tuesday for questioning on suspicion of abuse of power in the first such case brought against a member of the ousted administration.

Bacho Akhalaia, who served as interior minister for two-and-a-half months before resigning in the midst of a prison abuse scandal, was detained after more than three hours of questioning at the prosecutor's office, his lawyer told reporters.

"The reason for his detention was that during his work as a defense minister he allegedly insulted several officers in the presence of others...I've never ever heard such an absurd reason for detention," attorney David Dekanoidze told reporters.

Akhalaia is a close ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose former ruling party lost a bitterly contested October 1 election that put billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili at the head of a new government.

The election ended Saakashvili's nine-year dominance of Georgia, a focus of tensions between Russia and the West and a transit country for Caspian Sea oil and gas exports to Europe.

Government officials said after the election that all former officials suspected of illegal activity would face prosecution.

Akhalaia was appointed as Georgia's defense minister one year after a five-day war with Russia and served in that post for three years.

He stepped down as interior minister in September amid a prison abuse scandal that erupted a few weeks before the October parliamentary election.

Demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi and other towns after video footage showing the torture and rape of inmates in the capital's main prison was aired by two television channels supportive of the opposition.

Akhalaia left Georgia after the election, but came back earlier this week saying he was ready to answer any questions from law-enforcement agencies.

Several former high-ranking officials, including defense and justice ministers, left the country after the vote.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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