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Agricultural Minister quits

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, May 3
Minister of Agriculture Davit Kirvalidze quit on May 2nd. According to Kirvalidze his decision was related to the arrests of several individuals at the Ministry of Agriculture the previous day. Kitvalidze suggested that his resignation might be temporary and that when the investigation ends he might return to the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), on May 1st officers of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the MIA detained several high-rank officials at the Ministry of Agriculture and Mekanizatori LTD Company.

On December 26, 2012 the Georgian government allocated 54 million lari from the state budget for assisting various agricultural projects.

The MIA explained that as part of the government project Mekanizatori was assigned to purchase agricultural tractors and other appliances from the allocated funds. High-ranking officials from Mekanizatori LTD and representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture were in charge of procurements.

"In the process of buying and choosing between various products with practically the same characteristics, the preference was made in favor of a particular manufacturer with the worst offer, as a result of which 100,000 euros was embezzled in purchasing tractors." the MIA statement reads.

The MIA added that in January 2013 tractors and other necessary appliances were purchased, during which high-ranking officials embezzled 2.5 million lari from the state budget.

Six Ministry of Agriculture officials have been detained. They are accused of misappropriating and embezzling a large amount of state funds and for exercising pressure on a group of experts in order to conceal their crime.

"I will resign before the truth is established." Kirvalidze stated after revealing the facts.

Georgian Dream members described Kirvalidze's actions as "brave". According to Georgian Dream members the minister’s actions revealed that he is not avoiding responsibility. They stated that Kirvalidze is a professional and is not linked with the alleged crimes.

"I believe that Kirvalidze has not broken the law. It is a hard day for all the members of the government. I do not know the details concerning the issue-let’s wait for the investigation's outcomes." Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani stated.

The United National Movement (UNM) has responded to the scandal. According to UNM General-Secretary Vano Merabishvili more funds might have been embezzled than was revealed by the MIA.

"Everyone knows that there were various violations at the ministry. Products at special shops where farmers can use state agricultural vouchers are three times more expensive compared to other shops. It means that from 260 million lari, 28 million lari went into the pockets of state officials.” Merabishvili said, adding that the current government will have to answer hard questions about corruption.

Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze thinks that if there were no substance to the claims of corruption Kirvalidze would not have left his position. Sakvarelidze stressed that in the current political environment frequent changes of ministers will not be to Georgian Dream's advantage.

"It is possible some members of the economic team will be changed. However it's a little early to speak about this issue." Sakvarelidze said, added that Kirvalidze’s resignation was a positive sign and a new event in Georgian politics.

"It will be nice if a precedent is set in Georgian politics and ministers will take responsibility for events that occurred within their ministries,” Sakvarelidze said.