Former Energy and Finance Minister Aleksandre Khetaguri, General Director of Rustavi 2 Nika Gvaramia, Telasi CEO Devi Kandelaki and GDC Solutions representative Kakha Damenia were among those arrested and detained late on December 19th. They are accused of corruption deals and fabrication of documentations. The arrests have serious implications in Georgia. President Saakashvili and the United National Movement party have characterized the arrests as the “legalization of dictatorship” in the country. The UNM might also boycott Parliament in response.
Former officials detained- opposition intends boycott
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, December 21
The Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance (MOF) claims that earlier this year then Energy Minister Khetaguri entered into a corrupt deal with Telasi (the electricity distributor in Tbilisi) and its three daughter companies Khramhesi 1, Khramhesi 2 and Mtkvari Energy.
According to the Ministry of Finance's investigators, Khetaguri was approached by Vadim Mityushin, a representative of Inter RAO, the Russian energy holding company which owns Telasi. Mityushin offered Khetaguri some agreement in exchange for which Telasi and its associate companies would not have to pay the tens of millions of lari they owed the government in taxes. According to investigators Devi Kandelaki, who at the time was CEO of Telasi’s daughter companies, was also involved in the bribery and offered Khetaguri GEL 1 million for such an agreement.
According to the investigation after accepting the offer Khetaguri contacted Nika Gvaramia to carry out talks with Kandelaki about how they could receive the million dollars without arousing suspicion. Gvaramia asked his friend Giorgi Nemsitsveridze to register a shell corporation, Elendef Service. Elendef Service received one million USD from Telasi and its daughter companies under the pretext of a consultancy fee. Nemsitsveridze received the money on August 30, 2012 and handed it over to Gvaramia.
According to the investigation Gvaramia also asked his friend Kakha Damenia, a partner at GDC Solutions, to get involved in the scheme by signing a sham consultancy sub-contract with Elendef Service.
The MOF investigation service also aired audio tapes of phone conversations between Gvaramia and former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, as well as between Khetaguri and Kandelaki and others. The ministry also released two court orders, dated November 10th and November 12th, permitting phone tapping of Nemsitsveridze and Damenia.
Russian Energy Company Inter RAO has confirmed that it hired a consulting company in Georgia, in relation to which high ranking Georgian officials and the General Director of Telasi were detained.
“We did hire a consulting firm in Georgia which works with the Minister of Energy and the Government of Georgia. We wanted this firm to work out a tax agreement project midterm perspective with Georgia to calculate tax commitments and understand what the base is to decrease the fees. The agreement was signed with the firm a half year ago. The work is under way, as not all work has been performed and paid.” a statement from Inter Rao reads.
All of the accused have pleaded not guilty. According to Gvaramia he was arrested due to his position as Director of Rustavi 2.
President Saakashvili has demanded the release of all those detained because the accusations against them are obscure and unproved. Saakashvili added that the current government has exceeded all limits and is becoming a dictatorship.
The UNM is discussing whether to boycott Parliament or not.
“What is going on currently is absolutely unprecedented… no one will prove that those people are dangerous and threat to the country… the current ruling administration has violated all norms of democracy.” UNM MP Goka Gabashvili said, adding that Gvaramia’s arrest is a form of direct pressure on Rustavi 2.
Georgian Dream has responded that “No one will close their eyes to illegal activities”
“It is the public demand that all who committed crimes should be punished. If there are questions about somebody he should answer them; if he is innocent the court will reveal this.” Georgian Dream MP Davit Saganelizde stated.
The Staff of Rustavi 2 have asked the government to release Gvaramia until the investigation is over; otherwise the investigation process will be interpreted as a form of direct pressure on the television station.
A statement concerning the detention was made by the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland. According to Norland the arrest of the director of a leading television station creates suspicions that there might be political motivations behind the investigation.
“However, the arrest is not related with the TV channel. It is connected with financial issues. It is important that the investigation process is transparent and fair.” Norland said.
Analyst Gogi Khutsishvili told The Messenger that the UNM might sacrifices its own members to create an image that it is under severe pressure by the new government.
“UNM leaders made Bacho Akhalaia (the former Defense Minister) return to Georgia to face certain arrest so they could characterize his detention as being on political grounds. Those materials released by the investigation prove that UNM officials knew about Gvaramia’s participation in the bribery process and that the issue might be investigated. However, they appointed Gvaramia as the new head of Rustavi 2 after the elections so that if Gvaramia were arrested they could likewise characterize his detention as being government pressure on the media.” Khutsishvili said, adding that President Saakashvili intends to dissolve Parliament next April.
“However, he will not have public support to do this,” Khutsishvili went on. The analyst also advised the government to release to the public all relevant evidence concerning investigations of former officials.