Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been abducted by armed men from a restaurant in Kiev, Ukraine, one week after a court rejected his appeal against extradition to Georgia, where he faces prison.
The abduction is likely the first step of Saakashvili's extradition to his home country.
"He was kidnapped by men in camouflage gear in a restaurant near our party offices. They pushed him into a white van and drove off," said Tetiana Barganovskaya, Saakashvili's press secretary. "They didn't show any identification."
Restaurant staff said the men were members of Ukraine's border service, though the service itself declined to comment. The Ukrainian interior ministry and state security services have denied any involvement.
The Financial Times, however, quoted a Ukrainian law enforcement source confirming that the border service carried out the arrest. The source added that Saakashvili will likely be flown to Poland, the country from which he illegally entered Ukraine in September 2017 by barging through a border crossing.
In January, Saakashvili was sentenced in absentia to three years in jail by a Georgian judge in Tbilisi, on charges of illegally pardonning police officers accused of murder.
Saakashvili denies the charges, saying they are politically motivated. The former president, who ruled Georgia for nine years until 2013, also faces charges in Ukraine relating to alleged involvement in a Russian plot to destabilise the country, charges he also denies.
A prominent supporter of the 2013-14 Maidan Revolution in Ukraine, Saakashvili was appointed governor of the Odessa region by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2015. The two were friends from their time together at university in Kiev.
However, their relationship deteriorated, culminating in Saakashvili's resignation from the position in 2016 in a protest against what he said was high-level corruption. He then launched a campaign to remove Poroshenko from power.
Saakashvili's Georgian citizenship was revoked when he took a Ukrainian passport in 2015. His Ukrainian passport was revoked in July 2017, leaving him stateless.