Tbilisi City Court sent on July 18 three activists from Bidzina Ivanishvili-led Georgian Dream coalition to pre-trial detention; they are accused of making sham deals to bypass party funding restrictions, .
Criminal charges against the activists from National Forum and Conservative parties were brought for allegedly handing out total of GEL 8,750 in cash to several individuals, who then transferred the sum on accounts of Conservative Party and National Forum in a form of party membership fees. The Interior Ministry said the action was violation of a provision in the criminal code, which bans making “sham” deals with a purpose of bypassing restrictions stipulated by the law. Violation of the provision envisages either fine or three years in prison as a punishment.
Tbilisi-based legal advocacy and watchdog group, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), however, said on July 18, that instead of bringing criminal charges, the case should have been treated as an administrative offense.
GYLA said that the law enforcement agencies were giving too broad interpretation of the provision of criminal code under which charges had been brought. Although the provision involves a clause about “sham deal”, but the article of criminal code in question is specifically about vote-buying and sham deals, mentioned in the provision, should only be interpreted in the context of vote-buying, GYLA said.
The legal advocacy group said that the case was not about vote-buying and should only be treated as an alleged violation of rules on party membership fees or as a violation of party funding regulations, which was an administrative offense punishable with a fine five times the sum involved.
Hans Felber-CharbonneauBidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the Georgian Dream, said the arrest of three activists was “undoubtedly yet another case of political persecution”.
“That’s how Saakashvili’s team fights against political opponents,” he told journalists on July 17.