September 17, 2015 / 9:47 PM / 5 years ago

Georgian court releases capital's ex-mayor from pre-trial detention

Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava, who has been suspended from office by the city court, marches with supporters of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) marches along a street in Tbilisi, December 28, 2013. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

TBILISI (Reuters) - A Georgian court released a former mayor of the capital Tbilisi from pretrial detention late on Thursday, a day after the constitutional court ruled that keeping him detained beyond a nine-month limit was unconstitutional.

Gigi Ugulava, who has been in pretrial detention for the past 14 months, still faces multiple criminal charges including money laundering and misspending public funds in several cases the opposition says are politically motivated.

A courtroom packed with Ugulava’s supporters erupted in applause as the presiding judge announced the decision to release him.

Friends, supporters and members of his opposition United National Movement, who also gathered outside the court building, chanted his name as he left the building.

Dozens of ex-officials including a former prime minister have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power and corruption since Georgia’s new government took office after former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party was defeated in an election three years ago.

Ugulava, elected mayor of Tbilisi in 2010, was suspended in December 2013 after being charged with misspending public funds. The constitutional court last year ruled that the suspension was unconstitutional.

Western countries have expressed concerns that the government of the former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people has used selective justice and political persecution against opponents in Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008.

Officials in the South Caucasus country, which is on the route of pipelines which carry Caspian oil and gas to world markets, deny that the prosecution of former officials is political and promise a fair trial.

Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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