23:49 GMT +323 January 2019
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    Georgia sentences ex-Adjarian leader to prison term in absentia

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    TBILISI, January 22 (RIA Novosti) - A court in Batumi Monday sentenced in absentia Aslan Abashidze, the former leader of the autonomous region of Adjaria in southwestern Georgia, to 15 years in prison and ruled he pay $57.6 million in fines to the state.

    Abashidze, who stepped down in 2004 following the so-called "rose revolution" in Georgia, has been accused of embezzlement of state funds and abuse of office. Under a separate case, the ex-Adjarian leader is facing charges of terrorism and organizing illegal armed groups.

    His lawyer said the prosecution had not provided enough evidence to support the court's decision.

    "Charges pressed against Abashidze have not been substantiated, and we are going to appeal today's ruling in a higher court," Shalva Shavgulidze said.

    He also said that by launching a case against his client, the Georgian government violated the immunity guarantees that President Mikheil Saakashvili had given the former Adjarian leader prior to his resignation in May 2004.

    But Saakashvili said in December 2005 the Georgian leadership had not given Abashidze immunity guarantees for the rest of his life. He said Georgia had kept its promise by allowing the ex-Adjarian leader safe passage to Russia at the time, but Abashidze had yet to be held accountable for the crimes he committed.

    At the same time, the Batumi City Court issued an arrest warrant for Abashidze after the Georgian Prosecutor General's Office charged him with abuse of office, embezzlement of private and public funds, and organization of terrorist attacks.

    Abashidze's property, which was worth $55 million and included houses, land, cars, works of art and bank deposits, was confiscated by the Georgian state.

    In May 2006, Interpol said it had put Abashidze on the international wanted list in connection with serious crimes, including terrorism.

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