TBILISI, DFWatch–Prosecutors in Georgia have brought further charges against former President Mikheil Saakashvili about embezzlement of public money.
The case describes embezzlement of about 8.8 million lari (USD 5.2 million) meant to be used for the protection service SSPS, but instead spent on luxury hotels, clothes and expensive cars.
Former SSPS head Temur Janashia is also charged.
In a statement published on Wednesday, the Prosecutor’s Office wrote that the money was spent from September 2009 to February 2013 based on an agreement between the ex-president and the former SSPS head as well as decrees issued by the president.
Some of it was used on vacations for Saakashvili and his friends and relatives, some on luxurious car services, luxurious hotels and items, including money paid for Saakashvili’s clothes, for him hiring a foreign chef who required expenses to live in Georgia and get paid, for Saakashvili’s hairdresser and even GEL 15 989 (USD 9,300) which were paid for a painting by Meredith Ostrom, the breast painter, in London.
The list is quite lengthy and includes money paid for hiring a bicycle for him abroad about USD 20 500, GEL 503 383 were paid for renting an airliner for Mikheil Saakashvili; GEL 58 876 were paid for renting Porsche, Mercedes and Audi brand vehicles for Mikheil Saakashvili and Giorgi Ugulava in Austria; GEL 45 214 were paid for renting limousine and minivan during Saakashvili’s visit to Verona, Italy; GEL 33 204 were paid for renting a helicopter in Peru; GEL 35 350 were paid for renting bicycles for Mikheil Saakashvili in various foreign states; GEL 25 237 was paid for renting yacht in the City of Pisa, Italy; GEL 49 499 were paid for seven jackets and one sport cashmere coat purchased for Saakashvili in Great Britain; GEL 7 994,84 were paid for two tailor made suits; GEL 53 283 were paid for ten wristwatches purchased in the USA, England and Georgia; GEL 15 989 were paid for the painting of Meredith Ostrom, the breast painter, in London; hotel, vehicle, food expenses and the air tickets costs for Saakashvili, Davit Bakradze and Levan Varshalomidze in Phuket Thailand, for two days amounted to GEL 127 858. Read the complete list here: http://pog.gov.ge/eng/news?info_id=528
In order to prevent these documents from becoming public, Saakashvili made a decision in April 2009 to classify expenses for his own purposes as top secret.
Two days ago, the Prosecutor’s Office and the president’s administration had a disagreement over whether these documents should be made public. The Prosecutor’s Office published letters written to President Giorgi Margvelashvili asking to make them public, after which the president’s administration complained that publishing the letters was a violation of law as they must remain secret. In the end, it was decided to declassify the documents and people learned about their content.
The investigation is launched pursuant to article 182, passage 3, of the Criminal Code, which foresees a punishment of from seven to eleven years in prison.
Members of Saakashvili’s party continue to claim that the charges are a form of political harassment despite the fact that there was frequently talk about Saakashvili’s personal expenses during his presidency.
Saakashvili, who is not in Georgia, currently faces three charges: for the violent dispersal of anti-government demonstrations on November 7, 2007, and breaking into the office of Imedi TV, for the beating of former parlamentarian Valeri Gelashvili and one week after the first charges, the Prosecutor’s Office introduced charges of embezzlement.
National Movement members DF Watch talked to chose not to talk about the embezzlement charge itself, but focused instead on the content of the spending, which they don’t think there is anything suspicious about. They say these kind of expenses are normal for any president and therefore Saakashvili can’t have broken the law.
Goka Gabashvili told DF Watch that any president can use the services of a masseuse, a dentist, buy clothes and hold parties. He says the government is being ridiculous by making such charges.
He is also sure that the current government is having the same type of expenses and suggests looking at the expenses for the recent visit of a Georgian delegation to Brussels in connection with the signing of an association agreement with the EU in June.
“I assure you they didn’t go there on bicycle but took a plane, stayed at hotels and it wasn’t cheap hotels, and this is actually right, limousines served them and they didn’t take a bus to go there and sign the document, and after the signing they had a dinner and a party and this is good. And so this is natural expenses. If every future government will add up such expenses by the government that was before it, I assure you it will be more than eight million.”
Sergo Ratiani, a member of parliament from UNM, told DF Watch that these expenses aren’t big, especially considering that the list span a period of five years.
“Especially considering that Saakashvili was creating a foreign policy by his special activities, which of course was related to expenses.”
He says that the government again tries to make up myths and blame the previous government for many things.
“People abroad know perfectly well what is happening and criticize the government for carrying out political persecution for different reasons,” Ratiani says, adding that it is aimed at a domestic audience.
In his opinion it is ridiculous when a government which cut the budget by one billion and took a loan of more than one billion and four hundred million and spent 138 million more on awards and salaries than what was defined argues about eight million spent by a president in five years.
Ratiani explains that making these type of documents is examined practice because money may be spent on the security of the country and this shouldn’t be public. When it comes to luxury items, the MP thinks it is based on myth and that the government is trying to hide its real goals with these myths.