The authorities are closely monitoring business activities of Iranians in Georgia and provide “strict control” over enforcement of sanctions against Iran, Tea Tsulukiani, the Georgian Justice Minister said on June 21.
She said that in close cooperation with the judiciary, the government froze about 150 bank accounts of Iranian individuals and legal entities.
The Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy article on June 20 reporting about increased business activities of the Iranian nationals in Georgia, among them also including investments in private airline FlyGeorgia and JSC InvestBank. The article says that a large part of the Iran-related business in Georgia doesn't normally run afoul of sanctions, but U.S. and European officials suspect that some illicit funds handled by other Iranians are mixing into the financial flood. The article also quotes one Tbilisi-based Iranian as saying that in the banking sector, Georgia has become a key place to evade sanctions.
Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, said that the cases reported in The Wall Street Journal would be “examined”, adding that that “control” by the Georgian authorities is so “strict” that she will be “surprised” if sections evasion cases are confirmed.
“Efforts that were undertaken by the previous authorities and are being carried out by the current government in respect of enforcement of UN sections against Iran have been assessed unambiguously positively by the UN delegation [apparently referring to UN panel of experts gathering and analyzing information on enforcement of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran], which visited [Georgia] several weeks ago. The delegation even noted that strict control in this regard in our country was implemented better than in any European state,” Tsulukiani said.
The WSJ article also says that “the surging Iranian presence in Georgia has startled the Obama administration because of deep U.S.-Georgia ties… But when it comes to Iran, Georgia, which recently elected a prime minister [Ivanishvili] who takes a less pro-American stance than [President] Mr. Saakashvili, seeks to forge an independent line, its officials said.”
Responding to this part of the article, the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi said on June 21: “Contrary to certain statements in the article, we see undiminished interest on the part of Georgia's government in strong relations with the United States, and a continued strong desire for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”
“Similarly, U.S. concerns involving Iran sanctions evasion here have grown in recent years, and pre-date the current Georgian government,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.
It also said that the U.S. government “is focused intently on shutting down any Iranian attempts to evade sanctions, including through possible business connections in Georgia.”
“We are working closely with the Georgians on this issue,” the embassy statement reads.