Ukrainian Court Frees Saakashvili After Thousands Protest Graft

(Bloomberg) -- A court in Kiev rejected a request by prosecutors to place Mikheil Saakashvili -- the ex-Georgian leader-turned Ukrainian opposition politician -- under house arrest as he fights accusations he plotted to overthrow the government.

Saakashvili, who denies accepting funding from an exiled Ukrainian businessman in a bid to seize power, greeted hundreds of his allies gathered outside the courthouse after an almost-eight-hour hearing Monday in the Ukrainian capital. A day earlier, thousands of supporters of the former Odessa governor swarmed city streets demanding his release, the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko and progress to stamp out corruption.

Sunday’s rally was concentrated on Independence Square, known as Maidan, the focal point of the protest movement that unseated Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Since then, the administration that took power has angered voters by failing to deliver on promises to bring greater transparency to government and remake the country’s former Soviet economy. Ukraine’s allies are similarly displeased: a $17.5 billion international bailout loan has stalled along with the government’s reforms.

Ukrainian Court Frees Saakashvili After Thousands Protest Graft

Saakashvili was hired by Poroshenko after helping curb corruption in his native Georgia but the two men later fell out. Saakashvili accuses the president of graft and has organized anti-government rallies. Ukraine revoked Saakashvili’s citizenship in July while he was out of the country. But he re-entered two months later by forcing his way past guards on the border with Poland.

“My plans are to do what I’ve always been doing -- to consolidate with other political forces,” Saakashvili told reporters after Monday’s ruling. “We don’t need coups. We need to press the authorities so they adopt all the necessary laws. And we need to get ready for a constitutional, calm, important and necessary change of power in Ukraine.”

Saakashvili was arrested Friday evening after an earlier attempt to take him into custody failed when his supporters freed him from a van that was waiting to take him away from his home. Prosecutors had sought house arrest of two months and have 5 days to appeal the court’s decision.

Activists on Sunday also called for the dismissal of the prosecutor general and progress in creating a special court to handle corruption cases. They demanded an end to pressure on agencies set up to tackle graft as part of the rescue loan’s conditions, an issue that the U.S., the European Union and the International Monetary Fund all complained about last week.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.