Georgia’s controversial former president Mikheil Saakashvili could be pardoned and allowed back into the country, it’s been claimed.
Saakashvili, sentenced in absentia earlier this year to six years in prison, is thought to be living in the Netherlands.
But the strong performance of Grigol Vashadze in Georgia’s presidential election on Sunday has opened the door to Saakashvili’s return, an expert has told Euronews.
Vashadze, who represents the United National Movement party founded by Saakashvili, won 37.7% of votes, narrowly behind ruling party candidate Salome Zurabishvili.
But third-placed David Bakradze — who got around 11% of the votes — has pledged his support for Vashadze in the run-off vote, which will see the 60-year-old go head-to-head with Zurabishvili.
“Vashadze is a serious contender,” said Max Fras, an expert on Georgia and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ European Institute.
“Bakradze's support, although expected, combined with his solid support gives him a psychological advantage over Zurabishvili, who performed worse than her team expected.
“Vashadze may use his presidential powers to pardon his party colleagues including Saakashvili and Merabishvili, a hugely controversial former interior minister.”
Saakashvili, 50, was handed a prison sentence in June for abuse of power and seeking to cover-up evidence about the beating of an opposition MP during his time as president, between 2004-2013.
His supporters have denounced the verdict as politically motivated. He has denied all charges against him.
“Saakashvili's return would be hugely controversial for a number of reasons, mostly due to the fact that a number of investigations into his alleged wrongdoings are pending or have not been launched, and in a situation when the judiciary is not transparent or independent, it is anybody's guess how they may behave and what consequences this may bring,” added Dr Fras,
Saakashvili, who left Georgia after his second presidential term expired, moved to the Netherlands after being expelled from Ukraine into neighbouring Poland in February.