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NGOs Address Videos on Corruption Involving ex-Officials

By Vladimer Napetvaridze
Wednesday, September 26
On 25 September, leading Georgian Non-Governmental organizations released a joint statement, urging the Government to react on the “Iberia TV” and “Omega Group” cases. A few days ago Rustavi 2 released several audio tapes, including alleged facts of money extortion and business racketeering by former Georgian Dream ruling party ministers Dimitri Kumsishvili, Nodar Khaduri and Levan Kipiani. Among the organizations signing the joint statement are: Transparency International Georgia, Human rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), Sapari, Partnership for Human Rights (PHR), Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), Human Rights Center, Georgia’s Reforms Associates.

According to the statement, representatives of Georgian civic sector are concerned by inactivity of the Georgian Government regarding the Omega Group and TV Iberia cases, including elements of severe corruption, in which public officials may have been involved.

“In spite of the fact that the authenticity of the recordings has not yet been verified, it is highly concerning that the government has not responded to these materials. Moreover, some of the comments made by the representatives of the government indicate that they fail to understand the seriousness of the situation,”-the statement reads.

In one of the private recordings, leaked to the public, Zaza Okuashvili- one of the founders of Omega Group, talks with a representative of his competitor company (Tbilisi Tobacco), where he discusses the division of the tobacco market. The recording also contains a conversation about the transfer of 50% of the profit from the sales of the cigarettes to the Georgian Dream Fund. The recording clearly shows that 2.5 tetri is to be paid to the Georgian Dream Fund for every cigarette box sold.

Another leaked audio recording also contains a conversation where the former Sports Minister Levan Kipiani is demanding from Zaza Okuashvili to transfer his ownership of automobiles. As the recordings show, the automobiles are intended for Levan Kipiani and other high-ranking officials.

Due to the importance of the case and the severity of the accusations, as well as the involvement of high-ranking officials in the case, Georgian NGO’s in their joint letter, suggest to the government to immediately address this issue and answer all respective questions. Moreover, due to the alleged systematic nature of the problem and the exposing of alleged instances of corruption in different state agencies, it is expedient to make systematic changes: “On the basis of materials available to us, we consider that the following steps should be taken:

-Investigatory agencies should commence a thorough investigation;

The State Audit Office should examine the potentially illegal contributions to the ruling party;

-The Government should commence discussions about the necessity of reforms in the anti-corruption system and investigatory institutions, in order to provide for effective investigations and prevent any similar cases in the future;

-We call on the representatives of the business sectors, who have experienced issues related to corruption with public officials and civil servants, to publicly speak about these cases, as it is the only way to protect their rights in an effective manner, including the involvement of international bodies and civil society representatives.”- reads the statement.

In circumstances when the society still has no exact answer why the former Prime Minister Kvirikashvili and ex-Deputy Prime Minister Dimitri Kumsishvili have resigned, and at the same time private audio footage is leaked, involving elements of severe corruption, the government should respond immediately. Otherwise, there may be doubts that the resignation of the above-mentioned persons is connected to the corruption scheme, which, in turn, raises additional questions about why the investigation did not start until the secret audio tapes were released?