Tbilisi City Court accepted on October 30 a motion from prosecutors and ordered pre-trial detention of one former and four serving officials from the Ministry of Defense and general staff, who have been charged with misspending through alleged sham tender.
The court hearing was held beyond the closed doors as the case has been classified as secret. The tender in question, which involved a contract on laying fiber optic cable, was classified as secret. The Ministry of Defense, which said that all the procurements have been done in full compliance with the legislation, called for declassifying of this case to provide transparency.
Arrested officials from MoD’s procurement department and general staff’s communications and IT unit deny charges and their lawyers claimed violations as they were denied by the prosecution to be handed over copies of the case file ahead of the court hearing.
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, who is currently visiting Germany and who has not yet commented on the issue. 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.
Alasania’s allies from the Free Democrats party, including state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration Alexi Petriashvili and some lawmakers have ruled out Defense Minister’s resignation.
U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, also commented on the case on October 30 and said “we have full confidence in Minister Alasania.”
“I know that there have been a number of questions raised about this investigation,” the U.S. diplomat said. “First of all I want to say that the United States continues to have full confidence in Georgia as a military partner and a defense partner with United States, bilaterally and with NATO.”
“I want to say that we have full confidence in Minister Alasania and the leadership team at the Ministry of Defense, and we commend the way in which they have responded to this investigation by saying that they will cooperate fully with the investigation. Any time there are accusations of corruption this needs to be investigated thoroughly and we welcome such an investigation. As always, we ask and urge the government to approach such investigations in accordance to the highest standards of due process and rule of law,” Ambassador Norland said.