TBILISI Georgian police detained a further nine former state officials on Thursday, widening an investigation which the opposition says is a politically motivated persecution by the new government.
The nine, all interior ministry officials under former President Mikheil Saakashvili, were charged with abuse of power. Similar allegations were brought against the former interior minister and two military commanders arrested last week.
With Saakashvili's nine-year dominance of the political scene over, his allies now say a witch hunt is being orchestrated by the new government of Bidzina Ivanishvili whose six-party coalition won a parliamentary election last month.
"Former senior officials from the interior ministry are suspected of illegally obtaining personal information, including financial and commercial, with computers," Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani told reporters.
Lawyers for the nine detainees said they had been also charged with abuse of power and illegal confinement.
Former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia, arrested last week, quit his post in September, before the election, in a prisoner abuse scandal. He has been charged with torture and, separately, of illegally confining a person he had a disagreement with.
The head of NATO, which Georgia aims to join, has expressed concern about the arrests and European officials whom Ivanishvili met earlier this week on a trip to Brussels criticized the cases launched against his political opponents.