One former and four serving officials from the Ministry of Defense and general staff, who were arrested on October 28, were formally charged on Wednesday under article 182 of criminal code, involving misspending/embezzlement of large amount of public funds.
Prosecutor’s office claims arrested officials from MoD’s procurement department and general staff’s communications and IT unit misspent over GEL 4 million in sham tender on laying fiber optic cable last year. Defense lawyers of the arrested officials said their clients deny charges.
These arrests have stirred speculation in Georgia that the move might be part of infighting within the Georgian Dream ruling coalition targeting Defense Minister Irakli Alasania.
The arrest evoked parallels with the case when several officials from the Agriculture Ministry were arrested in 2013 on charges of misspending of public funds through mishandled tender; then minister of agriculture Davit Kirvalidze resigned after those arrests. But nine months later, in February 2014 misspending charges in this highly controversial case were dropped from the agriculture ministry officials.
When asked by journalists if he thinks that Alasania should resign like Kirvalidze did last year, PM Irakli Garibashvili told journalists on October 29: “I think you hurry too much.”
“This case is very regrettable. We should all wait for the investigation and we should allow prosecutor’s office to investigate this case in order not to leave any question unanswered,” he said.
Alasania, who was in France at the time of arrest of MoD and general staff officials and who is now visiting Germany where he plans a meeting with his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen, has not yet commented on the issue. On November 8 his party, Free Democrats, which is part of the Georgian Dream coalition, plans a congress at which Alasania is slated to be elected as party chairman, the post which he quit after becoming the Defense Minister.
The Ministry of Defense released a written statement on October 28 saying that procurement process by the ministry is carried out “in full compliance of the Georgian legislation.”
Deputy Defense Minister Mikheil Darchiashvili said on October 29 that he discussed the issue of arrest of “our five colleagues” at a meeting with Tbilisi-based diplomats and military attachés from NATO-member states.
“I want to stress that the MoD is maximally transparent, especially in procurement process,” the deputy defense minister said, reiterating MoD’s willingness to declassify the case to provide more transparency to the investigation. Tender in question was classified as secret.
Parliament speaker, Davit Usupashvili, said on October 29 that this is a significant case which he would personally follow very closely and added that whether charges are substantiated or not, either way this case has already “damaged” the armed forces.
“This case of high-ranking MoD officials is in no way just another ordinary case. The case concerns defense and specifically one of the most sensitive and important areas – that is communications. As you remember during the August, 2008 war that was one of the areas which unfortunately failed and the armed forces had to rely on mobile phones. So clarifying this issue is extremely important,” Usupashvili said.
“If it is confirmed that charges filed against these persons are true, it perhaps should also results of serious political responsibility of everyone involved. But if confirmed that these charges are groundless and not true, the issue of serious political responsibility should be raised of those people, who have initiated such case, because as of today the country’s defense capabilities, the armed forces and the defense sector, have been damaged seriously either by committing of this crime or by filing groundless criminal charges,” the parliament speaker said.
“We should follow this case very closely. I, as the parliament speaker, consider it as my personal case and the Parliament will follow this case in line with the law in order to avoid reoccurrence of such case,” Usupashvili said.