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Georgian police chiefs cuffed in cyber spy plot

Bodyguard recorded conversations, uploaded arguments to YouTube

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Several senior police officials and the former deputy interior minister of Georgia have been arrested on suspicion of spying on former opposition leaders and attempting to influence the result of October’s parliamentary elections.

The arrests come after new prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s coalition swept to power at the election, ending the nine-year rule of the government of president Mikheil Saakashvili, who remains in his post until October 2013.

The 11 interior ministry officials and former deputy interior minister and current vice mayor of Tbilisi, Shota Khizanishvili, are accused of hacking their opponents’ PCs to illegally obtain personal information. Phone taps of calls between leaders of Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition are also alleged, AFP reported.

Chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili said that the recordings – which show the coalition leaders criticising one another – were uploaded to YouTube by Ivanishvili’s bodyguard, who was bribed to do so by police.

Religious organisations are also said to have had their computers infiltrated as part of the cyber spy plot.

The arrests follow those on 7 November of former defence minister Bacho Akhalaia and chief of joint staff of Georgian Armed Forces Giorgi Kalandadze, who were detained on charges of abusing their power.

In response, Saakashvili supporters say they are the victims of political persecution, while Western leaders have also expressed concern.

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso warned Ivanishvili to avoid "selective justice", AFP said. ®

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