State Audit Office (SAO), which is in charge of monitoring political parties’ finances, said on July 4 that UNM party received through “bypassing the law” GEL 5.24 million of public money ahead of the last year’s parliamentary elections which constituted illegal donation.
The case involves alleged misspending of public funds from so called government’s employment program, which was launched by the previous authorities couple of months before the parliamentary elections in 2012 and which is already being investigated by the prosecutor’s office.
Vano Merabishvili, who at the time was Prime Minister, and Zurab Tchiaberashvili, then healthcare minister, were charged by the prosecutor’s office in connection to this case in May, 2013. Merabishvili, who also faces charges in a separate unrelated case, is in pretrial detention since May 22 and Tchiaberashvili was released on bail. Both Merabishvili and Tchiaberashvili deny charges as politically motivated.
Findings of SAO, which launched the probe after receiving a request from the prosecutor’s office, echoes allegations which have been put forth by prosecutors in their case against Merabishvili and Tchiaberashvili.
Acting head of political parties’ financial monitoring service at SAO, Zurab Aznaurashvili, said on July 4, that the Social Service Agency at the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Issues hired 21,837 persons in frames of “employment program” ahead of the October 2012 parliamentary elections.
At the time the previous government announced about the program to register unemployed citizens with a purpose to create detailed data base of unemployed persons to then help them with training and employment. Social Service Agency at the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Affairs was in charge of compiling data base. At the time the government also announced about hiring registrants, or as they were called “employment agents”, to carry out registration of unemployed citizens.
But SAO, as well as the prosecutor’s office, say that these 21,837 persons, who were hired by the previous government, were not even aware of the employment program and were receiving salaries from the state budget for carrying out activities related to UNM’s campaigning ahead of the parliamentary elections.
“Number of state agencies ignored purpose of the employment program and funneled budgetary funds to UNM’s pre-election campaign purposes,” said acting head of political parties’ financial monitoring service at SAO Zurab Aznaurashvili. “As a result UNM received GEL 5,240,880 in illegal donation from Healthcare Ministry’s budget.”
SAO, which is chaired by former UNM lawmaker Lasha Tordia, is only authorized to examine legality of political parties’ donations and finances and to pursue administrative proceedings, which may involve financial penalty, if violations are found. But SAO will level no fine against UNM in connection to this case because violations of party funding rules that took place before October 2012 were exempted from legal proceedings as a result of Parliament’s December 2012 amnesty act.