Prison jail generic.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili issued a pardon on humanitarian grounds on Friday to two Israeli businessmen who were serving a prison sentence for trying to bribe a deputy finance minister.
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The two men, Roni Fuchs and Ze’ev Frenkel, are not in the best of health.
They landed at Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport on Friday afternoon, where they were greeted by relatives and friends. The men looked relieved and smiled at photographers.
“The feeling of being back is wonderful,” Fuchs told Channel 10 News. “I want to thank my wonderful family, and my special friends in Israel and the world, and the honorable president of the country, Shimon Peres, who worked without pause throughout the whole period in order to release us, without giving up.”
Fuchs and Frenkel were sentenced in April by a court in Tbilisi to seven years and sixand- a-half years behind bars, respectively, and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
They were arrested by Georgian police in December 2010 in a sting operation, on suspicion of offering the country’s deputy finance minister $5 million to speed up payment of a $100m. compensation payment owed to them by the Georgian government.
The compensation was owed due to the cancellation of an oil and gas distribution contract between the men’s company and the Georgian government. A British court had ordered the Georgian government to pay the package.
The arrests took place immediately after the businessmen’s meeting with the deputy finance minister, which was secretly recorded by police. Clips from the meeting were aired on Georgian television.
Police raided the restaurant where the Israeli men were sitting.
Both men have maintained their innocence, and said the arrest was designed to serve as a distraction from the debt owed to them.
Peres phoned Saakashvili to thank him “from the bottom of my heart” for the pardon.
“I know this was your personal decision,” he said. “It was a generous gesture and I have tremendous respect for it.”
Peres said now that the episode was over, Israel and Georgia could “return to the good and deep ties that were significant for both sides.”
According to a statement put out by the president’s office, Saakashvili said he respected Peres as a world leader and a “big friend of Georgia.”
“This episode was difficult and uncomfortable for both sides, and I am happy it has ended,” the Georgian president said.
Even before the two businessmen landed in Tel Aviv, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman invited Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze to Israel, a visit due now to take place in two weeks. According to a Foreign Ministry official, the invitation was made as part of an effort to improve the relations between the two countries and return the bilateral cooperation to the level it was before this incident clouded ties.Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.