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Audit Agency accuses Rustavi council member of attempted vote-buying

By Ernest Petrosyan
Wednesday, June 13
The State Audit Agency claims that Kakha Baratashvili, the Deputy Chair of Rustavi City Council and a member of the ruling United National Movement (UNM), violated campaign law by distributing wine and sheep as an Easter gift to local residents.

As a result of an amendment adopted last autumn, the agency is responsible for monitoring political finances. Under the legislation, the gifts constitute a violation of the Law on Political Unions, which prohibits a party from providing goods or services free of charge to citizens via a candidate, a representative, or any other individual.

The Agency estimated the sheep and wine as worth 7,920 GEL. If a court approves the complaint, Baratashvili will be fined 39,600 GEL (approximately $24,200 USD) – five times the amount in question, as per the law.

Baratashvili confirmed the fact that he distributed sheep and wine, however, he noted that it was based on his own will and financial resources – he did not use government resources.

“I would like to note that such facts really took place. I told the agency that it was due to my personal desire and no administrative money was spent,” he said.

He noted that on holidays there are always small trading centres where sheep are sold, so he spontaneously decided to buy sheep, rent a car, and distribute them to various districts of the city.

“I did not have any other interest, especially political or administrative. It was my own decision, from my own savings,” Baratashvili maintained.

The story was first broken by Transparency International Georgia in early May, which reported that sheep and 20 litres of wine each were given to individuals by Tamaz Gvelukashvili, another UNM member of the City Council. However, the State Audit Agency said that it ascertained that the gifts were distributed not by the Gvelukashvili, but by Baratashvili.

Recently, another watchdog group, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, called on the agency to also consider a series of closed-door meetings held by senior government officials with voters. Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili and Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, as well as other officials, held a meeting with a group of doctors at a Tbilisi restaurant.

The doctors said after the meeting that they had been briefed by senior officials about on-going reforms and issues related to the healthcare sector.

GYLA claimed that serving meals to voters at such meetings constitutes a violation of the law, as it could be considered vote-buying.

Irakli Sesiashvili, a member of the Georgian Dream coalition, believes that such measures became necessary to show international community that the Georgian State Audit Agency is not created to punish only Georgian Dream. “The Rustavi Deputy City Council [member] bribed voters, as he openly [distributed] banned-by-law gifts,” Sesiashvili asserted.