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    GOVERNMENT HIGH-RANKERS REMAIN UNDER PROBE DESPITE RETURN OF EMBEZZLED FUNDS

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    TBILISI, April 4, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - High-ranking Georgian government officials, who have voluntarily reimbursed the money embezzled from the public purse, will remain under investigation nonetheless.

    The repayment of stolen funds does not exempt from criminal liability, Georgian Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili pointed out at a news briefing Sunday. He said that the probe would proceed and that if more evidence of corruption was found, those people would be brought to account. Given their cooperativeness, however, the Prosecutor's Office will not insist on pre-trial detention, Mr. Okruashvili promised.

    According to the man, Georgian civil servants charged with embezzlement have voluntarily repaid about 20 million lari (or $10 million) to a recently-established "institution for cooperation with the Prosecution." But "work in this direction is ongoing; the number of civil servants, whom the Prosecutor's Office suspects of corruption, is far from having been exhausted," Mr. Okruashvili stressed.

    The investigation department is presently in consultations with the defense lawyers of several high-ranking officials implicated in corruption, discussing the possibility of replacing pre-trial detention with the release on parole, he reported.

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