Georgian ex-president sentenced in absentia for abuse of power

FILE PHOTO: Georgian former president Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to reporters in Warsaw, Poland, Feb. 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

TBILISI (Reuters) - A Georgian court sentenced former leader Mikheil Saakashvili in absentia to six years in prison on Thursday for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition member of parliament when he was president.

His supporters had denounced the verdict as politically motivated. He has denied all charges against him.

Saakashvili was sentenced to a separate three years in prison in January after being convicted of seeking to cover up evidence about the murder of a Georgian banker.

Georgian authorities have said they will seek the extradition of Saakashvili, who was president of the Caucasus republic from 2004-2013.

A court in the Georgian capital Tbilisi found Saakashvili guilty of abusing his presidential powers by trying to conceal evidence about the 2005 beating of opposition member of parliament Valery Gelashvili.

“It’s very important to say that the court categorically rules out any political motivation behind the verdict,” Judge Shorena Guntsadze said in court.

Saakashvili’s allies called the verdict illegal.

“The court and prosecutor’s office have lost the trust of the people and have no right to take such decisions,” said Nika Melia, a member of Saakashvili’s United National Movement.

Saakashvili, 50, who left Georgia after his second presidential term expired, moved to the Netherlands after being expelled from Ukraine into neighboring Poland in February.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Mark Heinrich