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Allegations over Misuse of Funds in the Army Triggers Cabinet Row
/ 6 Jan.'05 / 17:48
Civil Georgia

State Minister Baramidze said he sees
“a clear threat of cabinet split.”
The Georgian government is now facing its first serious internal crisis, as Defense Minister and State Minister sparred publicly over the alleged cases of misuse of power and misappropriation of funds in the army.

“I see a clear threat of a split in the government, which is inadmissible,” former Defense Minister and now State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration Issues Giorgi Baramidze said at a specially convened news conference on January 6, in a response to allegations voiced by Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili.

Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said at a news briefing on January 4 that the situation involving the misappropriation of funds in the Defense Ministry is “alarming” and requested the General Prosecutor’s Office bring criminal charges against several officials, including former Deputy Defense Minister Paata Gaprindashvili. Gaprindashvili was appointed by ex-Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili and served at this position from June-December 2004, while the Defense Minister’s post was held by Giorgi Baramidze.

Speaking at the press conference, State Minister Giorgi Baramidze, who also serves as Georgia’s Vice-Premier, said that Okruashvili “misinformed the public” and demonstrated charts, which, as he put it, proved that the alleged cases of misappropriation unveiled by Okruashvili were groundless.

Baramidze blamed Okruashvili of “intrigues” against him and slammed the current Defense Minister for triggering a split in the government.

The Georgian media have been speculating about a persisting disagreement between the so called 'President Saakashvili team', which includes Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, and the 'Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania team', which includes Giorgi Baramidze.

“Of course I always felt that this kind of disagreement existed, but I have never demonstrated it publicly and we should do our best to maintain the unity of the government,” Giorgi Baramidze said.

“It is very disappointing that Okruashvili tries to demonstrate that the current situation in the army is worse than it was before the revolution. It means that the President [Mikheil Saakashvili], Parliamentary Chairperson [Nino Burjanadze] and Prime Minister [Zurab Zhvania], as well as many experts were just lying when talking about the progress in the army,” Giorgi Baramidze said.

Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said on January 4, that many officials, including former Deputy Defense Minister Paata Gaprindashvili, are responsible for, as he put it, “pushing the Georgian army into a worse situation than it was before the [Rose] Revolution.”

State Minister Giorgi Baramidze expressed hope that President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Zhvania will adequately assess the current situation in the cabinet.

On January 6, the Georgian President suspended a visit to Ukraine and arrived in Georgia one day early.  But he has made no statements regarding the recent developments in the government so far.

Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili is the only official who has commented so far, by saying, on January 6, that “there is no disagreement in the government.”

The current crisis in the cabinet may overshadow the real state of affairs in the army, which, according to Baramidze, “is not perfect.” The first serious sign of persisting problems was a protest by some 60 servicemen of the Internal Troops in December, who went AWOL and rallied outside the Public Defender’s Office to demand better social conditions in the army.

During the press conference on January 4, Irakli Okruashvili did not speak about this incident, but it is likely that this protest triggered the new leadership in the Defense Ministry to carry out an internal investigation.

The Prosecutor-General's Office and the Chamber of Control, the main state audit agency, are currently probing into cases of alleged misappropriation of funds at the Defense Ministry, following a request by the Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili.

"The process of this inspection will last for 20 days and an investigation will officially be launched after this process, followed by an interrogation of all persons allegedly linked with the case,” spokesperson for the Prosecutor General's Office Khatuna Tskhvedadze told Civil Georgia on January 5.

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