President Saakashvili shrugged off claims that the arrest of two Israeli businessmen, who are on trial for bribery charges strained relations between Georgia and Israel, saying that ties between the two countries “in overall are excellent.”
“We are about to finalize visa-free travel rules between Georgia and Israel,” he said in an interview with Georgia’s Russian-language First Caucasus News Channel on February 24.
Ron Fuchs, who has won a long-standing multi-million dispute with Georgia in an international arbitration, and his associate Zeev Frenkiel, were arrested by the Georgian law enforcement officers in Georgia’s Black Sea town of Batumi on October 14. They were charged with offering a bribe to Georgia’s Deputy Finance Minister in exchange for persuading the Georgian government not to appeal the decision of international arbitration. Ron Fuchs’ lawyers say that their client was arrested to force him reject his multi-million claim.
“We are number one in this region in terms of absence of corruption. Not everyone is ready to play with these rules, including perhaps foreigners; it is understandable, because Georgia previously was a territory where one could have bought and sold everything on the government level,” Saakashvili said.
“I will not comment on a particular criminal case; it’s not my business, it’s the business of court, but we should understand that everything can happen in relationship between the states. There are Georgians who are in the Israeli jails, who violated the Israeli laws and Israelis might also violate the Georgian laws; it is up to the courts to decide.”
“As far as we are building democratic, non-corrupt country even the friendliest relations, the most high-level political contacts can hardly change decisions of courts acting in frames of rule of law. We should understand that we have grown up and that we are a serious country,” Saakashvili said.
Trial into the two Israeli businessmen’s case is ongoing in the Tbilisi City Court since late December. The trial is now at the stage of questioning witnesses. Currently one of the key witnesses, the Georgian Deputy Finance Minister, is being questioned.