Georgian Court Jails Former Defense Ministry Officials

TBILISI – A Georgian court on Monday sentenced seven former defense ministry officials to five years in prison for mismanaging nearly USD 2 million.

The court found the accused guilty of misspending more than 1.8 on a fraudulent tender to lay fiber optics cables in 2013. According to court documents, the five were charged with manipulating the bidding process, which resulted in Silknet – the country’s largest telecommunications company, with ties to the convicted officials – having gained an unfair advantage during the auction.

The court said the officials then signed a grossly inflated USD 3.1 million contract with Silknet to lay cables and procure networking equipment. At the time of the tender, an independent auditor had estimated the project to be worth USD 1.2 million.

Court prosecutor Nino Aglemashvili said the verdict was “proof that the country’s law enforcement officials had adequately reacted to illicit misspending of budget funds.”

The former officials involved in the case include former Defense Ministry Procurement Department head, Gizo Glonti, his colleagues Giorgi Lobzhanidze and Archil Alavidze as well as General Staff Communications and IT chiefs Nugzar Kaishauri and David Tsipuria.

Four of the convicted officials held positions in the defense ministry at the time of their October 28, 2014 arrest. The incident came less than a month before the sacking of then-Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, who’d come under fire for the controversy caused by the arrest of the officials.

Following his dismissal, Alasania publicly castigated former Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili of ordering a politically motivated crackdown on those who criticized the court’s decision to charge the five officials involved in the Silknet case.

Alasania – seen by many analysts as a top contender to lead the next government following upcoming elections in October – claimed at the time that Garibashvili ordered the arrests and his subsequent dismissal after the defense ministry openly pursued Georgia’s goals of deepening its cooperation with the NATO military alliance and moving closer towards full Euro-Atlantic integration.

Alasania and his Free Democrats party immediately quit the ruling Georgian Dream coalition in November 2014 and moved into opposition with former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s staunchly pro-Western United National Movement.

Immediately after the five officials were sentenced, Alasania announced he would organize mass street protests calling for the end of politically motivated court cases.

By Nicholas Waller

18 May 2016 22:17