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MoD employees charged

By Tea Mariamidze
Tuesday, May 17
Tbilisi City Court judge Besik Bugianishvili found five former officials of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) guilty of misspending budgetary funds and sentenced them to seven years of imprisonment on May 16.

The convicted men are: Gizo Ghlonti, the former head of the State Procurements Department, MoD; Nugzar Kaishauri, head of the Communications and Information Technologies Department, Joint Staff, Georgian Armed Forces; Giorgi Lobzhanidze, the head of the Unit at the State Procurements Department, MoD; Archil Alavidze, Chief Specialist at the State Procurements Department, MoD; Davit Tsiphuria, Head of the Unit at the Communications and Information Technologies Department, Joint Staff, Georgian Armed Forces.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office detained all five officials on October 28, 2014. They were accused of misspending more than 4 million GEL from the state budget in an alleged sham tender in 2013 on laying fibre-optic cables and procuring networking equipment.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office claims the process was arranged in a way to give the advantage to one of the country's largest telecommunications operators, Silknet, which was awarded a GEL 6.7 million contract, while the actual market price of services to be provided were worth only GEL 2.6 million.

This case resulted in the sacking of former Defence Minister Irakli Alasania. The former minister and the current leader of the Free Democrats opposition party, Alasania has stated that his employees were innocent and the arrest was an attack on the Ministry, himself, and Georgia’s foreign course.

However, after about nine months of pre-trial detention, on June 19 2015 misspending was dropped from the charges and in August 2015 Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli reinstated four men to their jobs. The fifth person was not an MoD employee at the time of the arrest.

The announcement of a guilty verdict by Judge Bugianishvili on May 16 was followed by an angry reaction and stir at the courtroom by the relatives of the convicted and members of the Free Democrats as well.

According to the lawyer for the defence, Levan Samushia, the verdict was unfair and he is going to appeal it.

“These people are innocent and this verdict is nonsense. This is only the desire of the supreme government,” the lawyer stated.

Members of the Free Democrats link the guilty verdict to former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Later, during a special briefing, they announced that a protest rally will be held on May 21st at the Prosecutor’s Office.

“We will continue our legal dispute. In addition, I promise Ivanishvili that it will be a decision that will bring an end to his government,” said Alasania, and promised that his party will continue the political and legal battle to protect the convicted.

Prosecutor Nino Aghlemashvili claims there was enough evidence in the case, along with the conclusion of a financial expert, in order to find the accused guilty. She says that the arguments of the defence were too weak.

“This decision is a confirmation of the fact that the judicial authorities in the country adequately responded to public officials’ waste of budget funds,” the prosecutor said.

The Chair of the ruling party Georgian Dream (GD), Gia Volski, rules out any political interference from the government in the case.

“Today there is a tendency to believe that everything is attributed to Bidzina Ivanishvili…such a high sentence is connected to emotions but in most cases there are more emotions than judgment,” he commented.

Public defender Ucha Nanuashvili also commented on the case. The Ombudsman said he is waiting for a reasoned assessment from the judge, after which he will make a statement.

“From the beginning there were some question marks in the case. We were also talking about procedural violations; we will study the case properly and we will find out how grounded the decision of the judge was,” Nanuashvili said.

The defence side can appeal the verdict after one month from its announcement.