Ex-minister of economy, Kakha Bendukidze, has been summoned by prosecutors for questioning in an ongoing investigation into privatization of the Agrarian University and its property three years ago.
Bendukidze, who chairs supervisory board of the Agrarian University and who has to appear before prosecutors before noon on March 18, says that ongoing investigation is “absurd”, which has only political motives.
Dimitri Shashkini, who at the time of university’s privatization was the education minister, has also been summoned by prosecutors for questioning.
Bendukidze, who amassed wealth in Russia in the 1990s, moved back to Georgia in 2004 when he was appointed as economy minister; he then served as state minister in charge of reforms in 2004-2008 and was head of government’s administration till early 2009. Several years ago Bendukidze started investing in education sector in Georgia and launched Free University.
In 2011 an entity founded by Bendukidze took over the management of the state agricultural university and then bought it for USD 5.15 million on the condition to keep the institution’s educational profile for at least eight years and to invest in it GEL 8 million.
Since then GEL 11.2 million has been invested, according to audit reports, including in renovation of facilities and equipping new labs, leading to significant rise in number of students attracted by the university.
Prosecutor’s office said in a statement on March 17 that the university and its property were privatized through “by-passing requirements stipulated by the law.” Prosecutor’s Office says that before it was privatized, the university, fourteen research centers in various parts of the country and their property were incorporated into a single entity and its assets registered and sold at far below the market price. Rector of the Agrarian University, Lasha Gotsiridze, was questioned by prosecutors on March 17.
In March, 2013 decision of the Education Ministry to cancel authorization of the Agrarian University triggered allegations against the authorities of political meddling in academic institution; two weeks later the authorization was restored.