TBILISI, DFWatch — The ex-energy minister in Georgia, Alexandre Khetaguri, has been detained, suspected of accepting bribes in connection with power stations only months ago.
Also other former government officials have been detained in the case, suspected of having received large amounts of bribes and later forging documents to cover it up.
Members of parliament for the National Movement party have suspended work and returned to Tbilisi in protest.
After hours of interrogation on Wednesday, police detained former Energy Minister Alexandre Khetaguri, who was finance minister for a short period before the parliamentary election.
Nika Gvaramia, former Justice and Education Minister, and the former Deputy General Prosecutor, was also detained together with Devi Kandelaki, Director of the energy company Telasi and the large hydroelectric stations Khrami-1, Khrami-2; and the thermal power plant Mtkvari Energy Ltd.
Telasi is the only company supplying the capital with electricity. Giorgi Nemsitsveridze, founder of E&F Service and Kakha Damenia, founder of an audit company and former Deputy Economy Minister, were also detained on Wednesday.
According to the investigative service of the finance minister, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office is also studying this case. With the cooperation of the Energy Ministry, the investigation revealed that the former officials organized a scheme for obtaining large amounts of bribes and to forge the appropriate documents to cover their tracks.
The statement by the investigative service says that V. Mitiushin, representative of Khrami-1, Khrami-2, Mtkvari Energy Ltd and Inter RAO, which owns Telasi, started negotiations with Alexandre Khetaguri, the then Energy Minister, in order to sign a revenue agreement with the state. On the basis of this, there wouldn’t be conducted a tax audit in Krami-1, Khrami-2, Mtkvari Energy Ltd and Telasi, and accordingly they would avoid paying of tens of millions of lari to the state for those companies.
Devi Kandelaki, trustee for both sides was involved in the negotiations. He proposed to the Energy Minister to agree starting a dialogue for one million US dollars and not to apply tens of millions in payment for those companies.
Alexandre Khetaguri agreed to the proposal. In order to transform the one million dollars into legal money, he sent Kandelaki to a person he trusted — Nika Gvaramia — with whom Khetaguri had been in negotiations before.
Devi Kandelaki contacted Gvaramia, who explained how they should proceed.
Afterward, Gvaramia called his friend Giorgi Nemsitsveridze and they agreed that he should establish L&F Service, a dummy company to enable the cover-up.
“Its function should be consulting work, but he didn’t have any experience or bit of qualification and Gvaramia knew this from the start.”
The investigation also reveals that L&F Service Ltd was registered in the name of Nemsitsveridze, July 26, 2012, with money that Gvaramia had provided. One million USD was transferred to the account of this new company from the above mentioned energy companies, purporting to be compensation for consulting work.
August 30, 2012, Nemsitsveridze, following orders from Gvaramia, withdrew the money from his new company’s account and gave it to Gvaramia, completing the illegal scheme.
In October 2012, the Finance Service of Telasi Energy Company revealed shortcomings in the documentation of the supervisory board. Specifically, there was no decision of the central purchasing body of the company about buying consulting services from L&F Service Ltd. This created a danger that the illegal actions would be revealed. To prevent this, documents were forged and dated backwards in time.
The Investigative Service of the Finance Ministry informs that Gvaramia tried to give more legal form to the money that he had received, appealing for help to his personal friends, and prepared ways for how to do this. Other contracts were signed with energy companies, L&F Service and Gutidze Damenia Chantladze Solution Ltd for conducting different types of services.
In November of the same year, Gvaramia and his friends learned that Georgia’s Finance Ministry started studying this issue. To mislead investigators, they placed 1 184 950 lari in Kakha Damenia’s safe as if it was left from L&F Service checkout. Investigators have recovered this money.
The detainees have not been officially charged.
Former government officials claim that the detainees are innocent. They are protesting most vociferously against the detention of Nika Gvaramia, who was recently appointed as Director of Rustavi 2, a TV station known for its loyalty to Saakashvili’s government. His detention is seen as harassment against free media.
“Nika Gvaramia considers that his detention was an attack on him as general director of Rustavi 2,” Mamuka Chabashvili, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Giorgi Karamanashvili, founder of Rustavi 2, released a statement which says that the owners of the channel think Gvaramia’s detention is a way of putting pressure on independent media and an attempt at interrupting the activity of the TV station.
But investigators claim that detaining Nika Gvaramia has no connection with his current activity.
Employees of Rustavi 2 demand to release Nika Gvaramia before the trial.
Gedevan Popkhadze, a friend of Nika Gvaramia, who represents the Georgian Dream coalition demands the same. So did President Mikheil Saakashvili, who issued a sharp warning to the Ivanishvili government.
“I know well that there was pressure on the owners of this TV station,” he said, adding that the police found nothing on them.
“Now they detained the director on completely false accusation. I want to warn them that no one will establish a regime to which they aspire so much and they stand close to a very dangerous edge. I say this as a president and as citizen. I demand to immediately release the director of free TV and prevent this illegality, as well as punish the persons who do this.”
At the end of the day, a secret recording of phone conversations of the detainees were published. They confirm the findings of the investigation. Former government representatives protested against eavesdropping and said that the government is acting illegally.
Former government was frequently criticized for illegal eavesdropping, while now they criticize new government for same action. However, investigation published court decision, which allowed to conduct secret hearings of above mentioned persons.