Arrest comes after Saakashvili returned from eight years in exile and a day before a key municipal elections in Georgia.
Georgia has arrested former President Mikheil Saakashvili after his return to the country following eight years in exile, according to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
Local media showed a video of smiling Saakashvili being escorted into the Rustavi penitentiary institution on Friday evening.
“I want to inform the public that the third president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, is arrested. He was transferred to a penitentiary institution. Our law enforcers have carried out the arrest of the wanted Mikheil Saakashvili at the highest level,” Garibashvili told a news conference on Friday.
The announcement came about 18 hours after Saakashvili, who was convicted in absentia and has lived in Ukraine in recent years, posted on Facebook that he had returned to the country.
According to the press service of the public defender, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria will visit Saakashvili shortly.
The 53-year-old’s return came ahead of national municipal elections on Saturday that could be critical to Georgia’s political makeup.
Prior to his arrest Saakashvili lived in Ukraine where he headed a government agency steering reforms.
The development is expected to prompt a diplomatic incident with Ukraine as Saakashvili holds only the Ukrainian citizenship that was granted in 2015 before he briefly served as the governor of Odessa. His Georgian citizenship was revoked in 2015 due to the country’s law against dual citizenship at that time.
Garibashvili said Georgia’s law enforcement agencies had tracked Saakashvili’s movements from Ukraine to Georgia and “chosen a time and place for the police operation that would create minimal obstacles for the arrest”.
Saakashvili was convicted in absentia on abuse of office charges in 2018 and sentenced to six years in prison. He denies any wrongdoing and says the case is politically motivated.
On Friday morning, he said in video messages on Facebook that he had returned to Georgia and was in the western city of Batumi. He called on his supporters to take to the streets against the government.
The authorities claimed the video was fake, denying his presence in Georgia, which they later explained by saying it was necessary for the arrest operation.
Saakashvili – who swept to power in 2004 following a peaceful uprising – still commands a fiercely loyal following in the Caucasus country.
Critics have accused the ruling Georgian Dream party of using criminal prosecutions to punish political opponents and journalists.
Interpol turned down requests from Tbilisi to issue a red notice against Saakashvili.