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Tbilisi Mayor questioned

By Keti Arjevanidze
Monday, February 4
The Finance Ministry's Investigation Service and the Prosecutor’s Office accused Tbilisi City Hall of misspending GEL 5.24 million by creating hundreds of fictitious jobs in a municipal service through which funds were transferred as salaries to United National Movement (UNM) party activists and other public figures. The statement released by the Investigation Department of the Finance Ministry further reads that the Finance Ministry studies the case of TbilService group which the City Hall established in 2006.

In 2009 former head of Cleaning Municipal Service Tariel Khizaneishvili ordered the creation of a formal PR department for UNM activists. “764 UNM activists, or so-called party coordinators were fictitiously employed over these two years,” reads the statement.

The staff members and funds for salaries were approved by Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava. The investigation showed that these people did not work in the PR department despite being registered, but were receiving the salary; consequently GEL 5.24 million was transferred from the Mayors’ Office to TbilService group.

On January 31, General Prosecutor, Archil Kbilashvili, announced the mayor's probable interrogation. Later on February 2, Gigi Ugulava was summoned for questioning, but as the result of his refusal to arrive at the Finance Ministry’s investigations service; two investigators visited Ugulava in his office at City Hall and questioned him for more than three hours.

“The Tbilisi mayor has been questioned as a witness,” said investigator Tamar Kuchava, adding that the interrogation took place in a very calm atmosphere. As the investigation is still ongoing, the investigators hesitated from revealing the details. Kuchava also said that Ugulava answered all the questions rejecting to have a lawyer present. Prosecutor Nugzar Salia said one interrogation is not enough to investigate the case.

After the interrogation Ugulava said the questions were about the TbilService group’s activity. “The country is heading in the wrong direction and this is the most concerning issue for me,” he said, adding that the new government does not do anything to avoid misleading people. However he expressed readiness to answer any question from the investigation in the future.

Human rights defender Lia Mukhashavria thinks that the previous government tried to discredit the prosecutor’s office. She said the prosecutor’s office should convince society that the information they received from Ugulava was worth going to his office. “Ugulava did not violate the law directly, but if he obstructs the investigation it is a crime,” said the human rights defender.

Kakha Kojoradze, head of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), said the investigation department could force Tbilisi's Mayor to come to the finance police department to be questioned instead of visiting him in his office, because as Kojoradze explained, unlike the deputy the mayor does not have immunity to refuse.

Nikoloz Khachirishvili, UNM’s member of Tbilisi City council criticized the finance police’s accusations. “Why it is bad to support the right to establish a healthy way of life, why it is bad to employee people with any political view, who serves the country honestly,” Khachirashvili wondered. He said people participating in the TbilService group were contributing to the “country’s development.”

Georgian music band Theatrical Quartet (Teatraluris kvarteti) was among the people registered for the fictitious jobs of City Hall. The four singers were interrogated by the financial police investigation department. According to the official information, they were taking the positions of alpinist-sweepers in 2010-2012 and were being paid.

“We confirm that we were registered in the city cleaning service and in this way were receiving compensation for the participation in various events and concerts,” reads the Facebook post of the band, denying serving as alpinist-cleaners.

The investigation into the TbilSerevice group is underway to reveal the truth about the misspending of millions of GEL.