Georgian ex-president sentenced in absentia for abuse of power

TBILISI (Reuters) - A Georgian court sentenced former leader Mikheil Saakashvili in absentia to three years in prison on Friday for seeking to cover up evidence about the murder of a Georgian banker when he was president - a verdict which he denounced as illegal.

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Georgia said it would seek the extradition of Saakashvili, who was president from 2004-2013, from Ukraine where he is an active opposition figure and has had violent brushes with authorities.

A court in the Georgian capital Tbilisi found Saakashvili guilty of abusing his presidential powers by trying to cover up evidence about the 2006 murder of banker Sandro Girgvliani and pardoning four men convicted of the killing.

Saakashvili called the verdict illegal.

“The ‘verdict’ of the Georgian court ... against me is completely illegal and contradicts all international, national norms and common sense,” Saakashvili wrote on his Facebook page on Friday.

Ukraine said it would consider Georgia’s extradition request though legal procedures would have to be followed.

“Prosecutors are in the process of arranging a date for Saakashvili’s questioning due to Georgia’s request to extradite him,” Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, told Reuters by phone in Kiev.

The 50-year-old Saakashvili, a mercurial figure, moved to Ukraine in 2014.

His support for Ukraine’s pro-Europe Maidan movement, which forced a Russian-backed president to flee the country, won him favor from incoming President Petro Poroshenko who appointed him governor of the Black Sea Odessa region.

But he has fallen out badly with his former patron in Ukraine after accusing him of corruption and is under suspicion of assisting a criminal organization, which he denies.

He attracts big crowds to rallies in Ukraine and there have been occasional violent clashes between his supporters and police in Kiev.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev; Editing by Richard Balmforth