The state audit agency said on June 11, that Deputy Chairman of City Council in Rustavi Kakha Baratashvili of the ruling National Movement party, violated law when he distributed to some local residents wine and sheep as a present for the Orthodox Easter in April.
The state audit agency, which is also in charge of monitoring political finances, said that the move constituted violation of a provision of the law on political parties, which bans a party to provide goods or services free of charge to citizens via a candidate, a representative or any other individual.
According to the state audit agency sheep and wine worth of GEL 7,920 was distributed as a present in Rustavi. If the court approves the state audit agency’s decision, Deputy Chairman of Rustavi City Council will be fined with GEL 39,600 (about USD 24,200) – the amount five times the sum in question.
Transparency International-Georgia first broke the story about distributing sheep and wine to voters in Rustavi in early May. According to that report a sheep and 20 liters of wine were given to each recipient in several streets of Rustavi by ruling party member Tamaz Gvelukashvili. The state audit agency, however, said that its probe found that sheep and wine were distributed not by Gvelukashvili, but by Baratashvili, who is deputy chairman of the City Council in Rustavi, town close to Tbilisi.
Last week another Tbilisi-based watchdog group, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), called on the state audit agency to also look into series of closed-door meetings, which the senior government officials have been recently holding with voters. In late May Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava and other officials met with a large group of doctors working at various hospitals and medical centers in Tbilisi at a restaurant hosted with buffet service. Doctors were saying after the meeting that they had been briefed by the senior officials about ongoing reforms and issues related to healthcare sector.
GYLA said that serving meals at such meetings to voters constituted violation of law on political parties, which bans a party from providing or distributing goods or services free of charge to citizens. The group also said that it might also contain “signs of vote-buying”, which envisages criminal liability.
Announcement about a decision to fine a ruling party City Council member in Rustavi came few hours after the Tbilisi City Court approved the state audit agency’s decision to fine leader of Georgian Dream opposition coalition Bidzina Ivanishvili with GEL 148.68 million (about USD 90.9 million) for violating party funding rules.