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Fire destroys business owned by ally of arrested ex-minister

By Anna Kamushadze
Wednesday, December 26
A fire gutted the offices of ARTI Group late on December 23, causing millions of dollars in damage.

Firefighters reportedly saved the office containing the company’s computers and archives, but a storage facility was completely destroyed.

No one was injured in the blaze.

ARTI Group is owned by Kibar Khalvashi, a close associate of arrested ex-minister Irakli Okruashvili.

Okruashvili is now in German custody awaiting a ruling on extradition. His arrest on corruption charges, two days after accusing then-president Mikheil Saakashvili of graft and murder, led to mass protests and galvanized the opposition.

Khalvashi’s whereabouts are unknown.

The Interior Ministry is investigating the cause of the fire, and is expected to release its findings in two weeks.

ARTI Group director general Martins Vecvanags complained the fire brigade came too late, with too little.

“First, only two fire trucks arrived,” he said, according to the news agency Interpressnews. “Soon they were out of water… Additional fire trucks came 40 minutes later. In the meantime, the fire destroyed everything.”

Temur Giorgadze, head of the Tbilisi emergency service, told the Messenger he personally helped put out the ARTI Group fire.

Strong winds spread the flames, he said, leading to a two-and-a-half hour battle to extinguish the fire.

“There was a call from ARTI Group that the trash had caught fire. We sent a fire tuck, and it arrived in nine minutes. But when we got there, we saw that the whole building was on fire.”

“That happened because they were not following safety standards,” he added.

Initial reports put damage to the company at more than USD 7 million.

A spokeswoman for Aldagi, which insures ARTI Group, said the company’s insurance policy was only for USD 4 million.

“We don’t know the exact extent of the real damage,” she said. “But their property is insured for a certain sum, and that is how much we can compensate them.”

The spokeswoman wouldn’t speculate as to whether arson is to blame. They will wait for the investigation to finish, she said.

The Revenue Service closed ARTI Group for an extensive audit at the end of September, days before Okruashvili’s arrest. The company, Georgia’s sole distributor of Proctor & Gamble products, was boarded up for nearly a month and suffered heavy losses.