Sun, Jun 02, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Georgia probes president’s alleged Botox expenses

AFP, TBILISI

Georgian prosecutors said on Friday they were probing the alleged misuse of state funds, as accusations surfaced that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili spent thousands of dollars of government money on Botox treatments in the US.

“A large-scale investigation has been launched over the misuse of the state budget,” prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Khatuna Paichadze said in televised comments, without revealing details of the subject of the inquiry.

“The prosecutor’s office has the right to question any person that might have been involved and this could be the president of Georgia,” Paichadze added.

According to alleged expense documents aired by anti-Saakashvili broadcaster Imedi on Friday, the president splashed out more than US$11,000 in government money on cosmetic procedures while visiting New York in 2009 and 2011.

The documents also purported to show that Saakashvili spent about US$9,000 of state money in the UK on a naked portrait of an unspecified US actress.

Givi Targamadze, a lawmaker from Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party, questioned the authenticity of the documents and recalled the “embarrassment” caused earlier this year by similar claims — later discredited — that the president spent state funds on a sauna with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko.

The latest allegations come amid a slew of investigations into top allies of the increasingly embattled Saakashvili, whose UNM party lost to a coalition headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in parliamentary elections in October last year.

Saakashvili, who must step down when his second term as president expires in October, has accused Ivanishvili, now Georgian prime minister, of conducting a politically motivated witch hunt against him and his supporters.

Last week, authorities arrested former Georgian prime minister Vano Merabishvili — one of Saakashvili’s closest allies — on graft and abuse of power charges. Merabishvili — currently in jail awaiting trial — denies all the charges, including allegations that he used a government employment scheme to funnel money to UNM members.

After taking power in the 2003 Rose Revolution that ousted the former Soviet elite, Saakashvili led Georgia on a strongly pro-Western course aiming for NATO membership that antagonized Moscow.

However, his influence has fallen drastically since losing the parliamentary elections, and he appears increasingly like a lame duck ahead of his inevitable departure later this year.

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