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    SHEVARDNADZE'S SON-IN-LAW, IN CUSTODY ON TAX EVASION SUSPICIONS, MAY ASK FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM OUTSIDE GEORGIA

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    TBILISI, FEBRUARY 20, 2004, RIA NOVOSTI - Manana Shevardnadze, daughter to former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and wife to Gia Jokhtaberidze, CEO of the Georgian telecommunications giant Magticom, said Friday and she and her husband may ask for political asylum in some foreign country.

    Manana appeared before the press on Friday, following Jokhtaberidze's detention on tax evasion suspicions. She and her husband deny any financial wrongdoing.

    The businessman got arrested at the Tbilisi airport Friday morning as he was preparing to take a flight to Paris. According to Manana, her husband had no intention to flee the country, otherwise he would not have chosen air travel, which involves going through customs and police checkpoints.

    Jokhtaberidze, currently in jail, will have to be released 72 hours after his arrest unless an indictment is brought against him, the Georgian Justice Ministry said.

    The Prosecutor General told the Novosti Georgia news agency that the Magticom chief had booked a plane ticket to Paris several days before, but had not had it issued in his name until Friday morning.

    Asked to explain why Jokhtaberidze had been apprehended without an arrest warrant from a court of justice, the Prosecutor General said that the information about the detainee's planned departure had not come in until the small hours of Friday, leaving police with no time to obtain such a warrant.

    Jokhtaberidze said to the press earlier this week that he was willing to reveal to law-enforcement agencies whatever information they may need on himself and his company.

    Magticom is Georgia's largest mobile phone operator. It was set up in 1996, with the U.S. group Metromedia being one of its co-founders. Today, it services as many as 400,000 subscribers all across Georgia.

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