|Valery Gelashvili, a wealthy businessmen
from the opposition Republican Party was
stripped of MP credentials.
The decision was approved by 124 votes. The opposition parliamentarians described this decision by the parliamentary majority as “repression against political opponents” and refused to participate in the vote. Lawmakers from the opposition New Rights and Democratic Front parliamentary factions also announced that they will boycott the Parliament’s sessions in protest of this decision.
Parliamentarians from the opposition Republican Party said this decision by the Parliament will be appealed in the Georgian Constitutional Court, as the evidence put forth by the parliamentary majority to prove Gelashvili’s wrongdoings were marred by legal flaws.
Lawmakers discussed on March 31 conclusions of the parliamentary committee for procedural issues, which claims that Gelashvili was involved in the management of the construction company Evra, which was founded by him.
Parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party demanded a probe into Gelashvili’s alleged business activities shortly after Mayor of the capital city Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava said on March 18 that the Evra construction firm may have been behind a fire which destroyed one of the schools in the Avlabari district of Tbilisi on March 18. Authoritative and the parliamentary majority claimed that the Evra company wanted to gain control over the territory where the school was located.
According to the conclusions of the parliamentary committee for procedural issues, Gelashvili met with Education Minister Kakha Lomaia last October and discussed issues related with the Evra company constructing a new school in the Avlabari district. MP Rati Samkurashvili of the ruling National Movement party, who initiated the issue of stripping Gelashvili’s credentials, said there was major evidence proving that Gelashvili was involved in lobbying his own business and was engaged in the company’s management.
But opposition parliamentarians claim that Gelashvili met with Education Minister as the chairman of a public organization advocating the interests of the Avlabari district of Tbilisi and not as a representative of the Evra construction firm. On the other hand, the opposition also claims that Gelashvili’s meeting with the Education Minister could not have decided the fate of a school, as the Tbilisi Municipality was in charge of the building where the school was located.
The opposition also demanded that Education Minister Kakha Lomaia be summoned to brief parliamentarians about the details of his meeting with Gelashvili. But the parliamentary majority turned down this proposal, saying that Minister Lomaia testified in written form.
“There is no legal ground to support the stripping of Gelashvili’s MP credentials, as evidence provided by the committee’s conclusions are absolutely insufficient. The Parliament will definitely lose the case in the Constitutional Court,” MP Zurab Tkemaladze, leader of the Industrialist Party, said at the parliamentary hearings.
Opposition parliamentarians from the Republican and Conservative Parties said that the parliamentary majority’s campaign against MP Gelashvili was a continuation of the “retaliation” launched by the authorities after the daily Rezonansi published an interview with MP Gelashvili last summer in which the MP voiced insulting criticism against President Saakashvili and his family. Shortly after this interview, MP Gelashvili was attacked and brutally beaten by unknown armed men in downtown Tbilisi in broad daylight on July 14, 2005.
At that time Gelashvili linked this attack, which has not yet been investigated by the Interior Ministry, with a financial dispute between the construction firm Evra and the authorities over construction of the Presidential Residence.
Gelashvili is currently in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he lived before 1997 and where he reportedly maintains part of his businesses.
“We will appeal the Constitutional Court, and, if necessary – the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as well,” Valery Gelashvili said in a live interview with Imedi television shortly after the Parliament’s decision.
He also reiterated that the Parliament’s decision was a retaliation against him. “I was a businessman who refused to pay them [authorities] and spoke out publicly against [the financial dispute with the authorities] over construction of the Presidential Residence,” Gelashvili said.
“I knew that this decision would have been approved by the Parliament... I also knew that provocations were planned against me and I have told this to Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze. Three days later, a school was burned down and I was accused by the authorities,” he added.
The opposition parliamentarians announced on March 31 that they will boycott parliamentary sessions to protest against the Parliament's decision. But the Industrialist parliamentary faction has not yet decided whether to join this protest or not.
“We, the opposition factions, announce that we will launch a boycott of the plenary sessions, because the [parliamentary] majority does not give us a chance for constructive cooperation,” MP Pikria Chikhradze of the New Rights said on March 31.
“This is actually a one-party Parliament and the entire world should see this… It is impossible to work with this majority,” MP Levan Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party said on March 31.
But it is not yet clear whether the Industrialists parliamentary faction will joint other opposition lawmakers in boycotting the parliament’s sessions or not.
“Although we walked out from yesterday’s parliamentary session to protest against the Parliament’s verdict, our final decision whether to boycott the sessions or not will be made through consultations [within the faction members],” MP Zurab Tkemaladze, leader of the Industrialist Party told Civil Georgia on April 1.
Influential MP from the ruling National Movement party Giga Bokeria expressed hope that this decision by the opposition lawmakers “will not be fulfilled.”