At the plenary session of the Georgian Parliament held on 19 February 2014, MPs discussed the amendments to be introduced into the Election Code of Georgia. Among those who made a speech at the session was representative of the Minority, Khatuna Gogorishvili. Gogorishvili drew the audience’s attention to the ongoing pressure exercised against members of the United National Movement ahead of the upcoming self-government elections. The MP stated: “As soon as a party conference is held in a region and an election candidate is appointed, law enforcement agencies arrest the chosen individuals in two days’ time, at most. The same course of events was witnessed in Khoni. Zurab Jibukhaia was supposed to be our candidate for the position of governor and you yourself are well aware of the local public’s sentiments and so, with this move, the government tried to secure its victory and get rid of Jibukhaia. A similar situation was seen in Dusheti where Otiashvili was to be our candidate and in Zugdidi, where Gia Tsurtsumia was being considered as a candidate in one of the majoritarian districts.”FactCheck
took interest in the given statement and verified its accuracy.
In the course of our inquiry, we approached Khatuna Gogorishvili and requested certain specifications concerning the facts she pointed out in her statement. As clarified by the MP, preparatory activities for the party conference were completed in Khoni, Zugdidi and Dusheti. On 8 February, MP Davit Sakvarelidze visited the Dusheti region and held an organisational meeting in preparation for the party conference. Two days after this meetingthe newly elected deputy chairperson of the assembly, Head of the Regional Headquarters of the United National Movement, Zurab Otiashvili, was arrested. Furthermore, on 6, 7 and 8 February MP Akaki Bobokhidze paid a visit to Khoni as a part of the preparatory activities for the regional conference. In two days’ time the current Governor of the Khoni Municipality, Zurab Jibukhaia, and the Deputy Governor, Beso Tchelidze, were taken into custody. As stated by Gogorishvili, Khoni’s current Governor, Jibukhaia, and the Dusheti Assembly’s Deputy Chairperson, Otiashvili, were to take part in the planned primaries and with high probability become the candidates of the United National Movement in the Khoni and Dusheti Municipalities. Additionally, member of the Zugdidi City Assembly, Gia Tsurtsumia, was being considered for the deputy candidateship in one of the majoritarian districts of Zugdidi but was arrested on 18 February.The official website of the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia published a statement explaining the grounds for the arrest of Khoni’s governor and his deputy. According to the statement, on 10 February 2014, Regional Prosecutor’s Office of West Georgia took Zurab Jibukhaia and Besarion Tchelidze into custody on the count of the embezzlement of state-owned property and the abuse of official authority. The investigation uncovered that on 26 July 2010, by the order of the LEPL Service Agency of the Ministry of Finance, 213,662 m3
timber and firewood with a total value of GEL 28,884.45, which was illegally cut on the territory of the Khoni Municipality at different times and transferred into state property, was ceded to the Khoni Municipality free-of-charge.
In agreement with the decision of the City Assembly of the Khoni Municipality, the abovementioned timber was to be granted free-of-charge to local families affected by natural disasters, those living below the poverty threshold and large families with many children residing on the territory of the Khoni Municipality. In place of the aforementioned, Jibukhaia, having previously conspired with Tchelidze, handed over the said amount of timber to the wood processing factories operating on the territory of the same municipality instead of in favour of the impoverished population.
The investigation on the case is in progress under Article 182, Section 3 (embezzlement and fraud in aggravating circumstances), Article 332, Section 1 (abuse of authority) and Article 341 (falsification in service) which collectively envisage imprisonment from seven to 11 years.
On 10 February law enforcers took Zurab Otiashvili into custody. Otiashvili is also a member of the United National Movement. He was charged by the Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance with Article 332 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (abuse of official authority), Article 333 (exceeding official powers), Article 180 (fraud) and Article 340 (accepting illegal presents).
As for the member of the Zugdidi Municipality Assembly, Giorgi Tsurtsumia, he was arrested on 18 February by the Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance and charged with Article 362 of the Criminal Code of Georgia – preparation or using of a forged document. The indicated information was handed to us by the Head of the Public Relations Office at the Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance.
As clarified by the MP, approximately two days after the preparatory activities for the party conference of the United National Movement (UNM) were completed in Khoni, Zugdidi and Dusheti, several individuals were arrested. In Khoni: Governor, Zurab Jibukhaia, and Deputy Governor, Besarion Tchelidze (10 February); in Dusheti, Deputy Chairperson of the Assembly, Zurab Otiashvili (10 February); in Zugdidi, Member of the Assembly, Gia Tsurtsumia (18 February). As stated by the MP, those individuals were to take part in the primaries and with high probability become the candidates of the United National Movement in the forthcoming self-government elections.
It is to be noted that party conferences have not been held in these regions and no candidates have been appointed (Note: The party conference in Khoni was held on 27 February). Only preparatory activities had been completed during the time period of the arrests. Further, no primaries had been held at that time and so the individuals named by the UNM were not official candidates. Consequently, this part of the MP’s statement is inaccurate.In spite of the fact that in the abovementioned regions the election candidates were not appointed upon the basis of the UNM inter-party conference, we cannot exclude the possibility that they might still have been regarded as candidates of the opposition party for the upcoming elections. Furthermore, the fact of UNM members being arrested simultaneously in several regions indeed raises certain doubts (naturally, FactCheck
cannot make judgments about the legitimacy of those arrests at this stage). These doubts are reinforced by the fact that the arrests were immediately preceded by the visits of their party leaders in the region and the preparatory activities of the party conference.Taking into consideration the circumstances analysed in the article we can conclude that Khatuna Gogorishvili’s statement: “As soon as a party conference is held in a region and an election candidate is appointed, law enforcement agencies arrest the chosen individuals in two days’ time at most,” is HALF TRUE.