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The News in Brief

Monday, May 29
Controversy over Moscow’s New Sokhumi-based Law Enforcement Center Continues

The agreement on the joint Russian-Abkhaz “Information-Coordination Center,” to be established for coordinating the activities of Russian and Abkhaz police agencies in fighting “organized crime and other dangerous types of crimes,” stirred controversy in Abkhazia; local politicians and organizations expressed their opposition to the Center, both before and after the May 18 agreement.

In response to public criticism, the parliament in Sokhumi adopted a statement in support of the Center on May 22. The document said that the agreement on the Center is in line with both the Abkhaz constitution and the treaty on “the alliance and strategic partnership” signed between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba on November 24, 2014.

The statement also stressed that the Center's staff is limited to 20 persons, that the Center’s leadership is going to be rotated between Russia- and Sokhumi-appointed officers, and that the Center will not be authorized to conduct “operative-investigative activities”.

The statement also said that the claims on the possibility of amending the agreement without the Sokhumi parliament’s approval are false “either unintentionally or on purpose,” adding that any such amendments would need parliament’s ratification.

The Sokhumi parliament rejected the calls that the Center should answer to the parliament itself, saying that, according to the agreement, it will answer to Russian and Abkhaz interior ministries.

It also dismissed the criticisms on the immunity envisioned by the agreement for the Center’s Russian staff and their families, as well as its property, saying that these issues were “solved in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.” The Sokhumi parliament added in its statement that as a result of several other agreements with Russia during the previous years, “immunities and privileges are enjoyed by several thousand foreign citizens.”

Meanwhile, former Sokhumi interior minister and parliament member Raul Lolua, who joined fifteen parliament members (Abkhaz parliament has 35 members) in requesting to postpone signing of the agreement, held a press briefing, saying that a staff of 20 would not be enough to conduct the activities envisioned for the Center, adding that either this meant that something about the Center was not fully disclosed, or that the agreement’s authors were incompetent.

Lolua also said that the type of immunity envisioned for the Center and its Russian staff was enjoyed “neither by the [Abkhaz] president nor by a member of [the Abkhaz] parliament.”

State auditor shown brandishing pistol at bar in new online video

A new video of a public auditor pointing a pistol in a bar last December further undermined his claim that a recent fight with an ex-prosecutor was corruption related.

The video surfaced on the Internet on Wednesday, and shows state auditor Lasha Tordia pointing a pistol at staff of a night club, allegedly to make them turn up the music.

The video appears to be filmed by surveillance cameras at P.A.M. Club on Paliashvili Street and bears the time stamp 02:43 (am) and the date appears to be December 24, 2016.

Tordia, who heads the State Audit Office, previously claimed that he was attacked at a bar nearly two weeks ago because a former chief prosecutor was upset about a corruption investigation his office has been conducting.

But the new video, surfacing first on Facebook, seemed to undermine his version of events. Though he did not deny the video’s authenticity, he said that he 'had been waiting for something like this'. He accused the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and the Prosecutor’s Office (POG) of circulating the footage on orders from Otar Partskhaladze, the ex-Chief Prosecutor whio was involved in a bar fight with Tordia May 13.

The verbal and physical confrontation between Tordia and Partskhaladze took place at the bar El Centro near Freedom Square. Both blame each other of having provoked the conflict.

After the fight, Tordia was taken to hospital, where he stayed for a couple of days diagnosed with a head concussion. After some hesitation, he divulged that he thinks the fight was in relation to a probe his office has been conducting which established that Partskhaladze amassed millions of laris through suspicious deals with Tbilisi City Hall; a case which he thinks ought to be referred to the Prosecutor General’s Office for further investigation.

Recently, the MIA published a video showing that brawl, which was assumed as an attempt to whitewash Otar Partskhaladze who seemingly enjoys an informal sway over the two law enforcement bodies, MIA and POG.

The MIA also commented on the video from the P.A.M. Club in a statement.

“Owning to the high public interest, the Ministry of Internal Affairs would like to clarify that on December 24, 2016, an investigation was launched by Vake-Saburtalo police division of Tbilisi Police Department into the fact of threat, a crime envisaged by article 151 of the Criminal Code. The investigation is based on the report of citizen D.G., who is an employee of the P.A.M. Club situated on Paliashvili Street.

“According to the report, D.G. was threatened in the bar by an unknown person with a firearm.

“Soon after, an investigation was launched, employees of the bar – D.G. (questioned on December 24, 2016) and witnesses L.A and J.D. (interrogated on December 26, 2016) – stated that they were attacked by an unknown person and threatened and pointed at with a firearm. They also stated that the unknown person demanded that the music be turned up in the bar.

“Within the frames of the investigation, on December 26, 2016, the manager of the bar – T.B. – submitted video footage recorded by surveillance cameras depicting the events that took place two days earlier. After studying the material, the footage was added to the evidence attached to the criminal case.

“At this stage all necessary investigative activities are being carried out including facial analysis and audio forensic examination in order to define the authenticity of the video footage. Further results of the investigation will be made public.

“The investigation regarding the mentioned case is in progress under article 15 [of the Criminal Code], envisaging a term of imprisonment of up to one year,” the statement says.
(df watch)