Parliament passed on December 27 with its first and second hearings amendment to the criminal code tightening measures against and punishment for cases involving political bribery.
According to the draft amendment to a relevant provision in the criminal code, offering, promising and giving money, services or other benefit of any kind directly or indirectly “for the political purposes” or making any sham deals “for a purpose of evading restrictions” set by the law will be punishable with a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.
A legal entity engaged in illegal activities, laid out in this provision, will become subject to “liquidation”.
Liquidation, however, will only apply to legal entities other than political parties, a senior ruling party lawmaker, Pavle Kublashvili, said during the parliamentary hearings on December 27. It, however, has yet to be defined what the punishment in case of political parties will be.
The existing formulation of the same provision of the criminal code, which is currently in force, deals only with the electoral campaign period and bans to induce voters “to vote for any electoral subjects or to refrain from voting.” The existing code sets imprisonment for up to one year as a punishment for such actions.
The new formulation of this provision will also make it an offence to accept inducements, involving money or any other kind of benefits, for “the political purposes”; it will also be made punishable either with fine or imprisonment for up to three years.
Opposition lawmakers have criticized the amendment describing it “vague”, giving possibility of broad interpretations, especially the wording ‘for political purposes’.
A ruling party MP Akaki Minashvili said during the parliamentary hearings on December 27, that discussions were ongoing, including with election watchdog groups, in order to make this formulation more specific and final wording would be ready before the draft’s approval with its third and final reading on December 28.
MP Minashvili also said that discussions were also ongoing on possibility of setting a maximum annual amount which political parties will still be able to donate in frames of various activities, for example during various festivities; if introduced, such donations within a set annual cap will not be considered as a political bribery. Exact formulations, however, have yet to be defined.
The proposed amendment to the criminal code was also criticized by some election watchdog and legal advocacy groups. In a joint statement Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Transparency International-Georgia and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy said that the proposed amendments were setting “disproportionate” measures. They noted that while tightening punishment and measures in respect of legal entities and individuals, the amendment was not envisaging separately criminal proceedings against public officials for illegal use of administrative resources for the electoral campaign.