France rejects Georgian ex-minister's extradition

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France - A French court on Thursday rejected a Georgian demand to extradite its former defence minister Davit Kezerashvili for alleged corruption, judging the demand to be possibly politically motivated.

The ruling comes just ahead of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius's trip to Georgia next week along with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The appeals court in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence also lifted an order forcing the 35-year-old politician to remain under house arrest and wear an electronic bracelet.

His lawyers hailed the step in a joint statement saying the French judicial system had "honoured itself by not aiding a political witch-hunt launched by Georgian authorities".

On January 30, prosecutor Solange Legras had told the court she had "great reservations" about the extradition request, which she said appeared to be politically motivated.

Kezerashvili, a close ally of Georgia's former president Mikheil Saakashvili, was detained on October 14 at Nice airport on an international arrest warrant.

Kezerashvili, who also headed the financial police, was charged in January with taking a bribe of $13 million (9.5 million euros) to facilitate alcohol smuggling in the ex-Soviet nation.

The case against Kezerashvili was one of a string of investigations launched against Saakashvili allies after his party lost October 2012 parliamentary polls to a coalition headed by billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.