TBILISI, DFWatch–As five defense officials remain in pre-trial detention on corruption charges, the Defense Ministry and Prosecutor’s Office are quarreling over whose fault it is that the case documents remain classified.
The five, who were detained October 28, are accused of embezzling more than four million laris and helping a telecom firm win a state tender.
Defense Minister Irakli Alasania has personally vouched for the innocence of his subordinates, but because the case documents are classified as top secret, it is hard for the public to form an opinion.
The Defense Ministry says it has asked to have the case declassified, and blames the Prosecutor’s Office for keeping it under wraps, while the latter claims it is the ministry which doesn’t want it declassified.
Meanwhile, ministers from Defense Minister Irakli Alasania’s Party are speaking out in support of the Defense Ministry.
The Prosecutor’s Office claims that one of the deputy defense ministers is an acquaintance of the financial director of Silknet, a company which is related to the corruption case for which the five Defense Ministry employees are detained, which is about appropriation and embezzlement of more than four million laris.
Deputy Defense Minister Alexandre Batiashvili was questioned on Monday with status as witness. Prosecutor Jarji Tsiklauri said that the agreement signed between the ministry and the telecom company Silknet was signed by Batiashvili, who, it turns out, is a close relative of the company’s financial director.
Batiashvili said before the questioning started that he is in fact a relative of the financial director, but also claims that they didn’t have contact during the tender process. He said he is summoned as a witness and is ready to answer questions.
In earlier statements, the Defense Ministry said it had tried to release the secret documents, but the Prosecutor’s Office responded on Monday that the only reason the case is ‘top secret’ is that the Defense Ministry decided to sign a top secret agreement with Silknet.
The statement reads that the right to give ‘top secret’ status belongs to the minister and his deputies.
“The statement by the Defense Ministry alleging that it was the Prosecutor’s Office which determined the case material as ‘top secret’ and doesn’t deliberately remove it, is a lie and aims to mislead society, and also to discredit the Prosecutor’s Office.”
The statement reads that if there is still request to remove the ‘top secret’ classification, the office is ready to provide appropriate documents to the competent body and that only the defense minister or his deputies are authorized to remove the status from the documents.
The same day, the ministry responded by saying that they have never written or said that the Prosecutor’s Office classified the material as ‘top secret’ or that it deliberately preventing it from being declassified.
The ministry’s statement reads that on Monday, the ministry addressed the Prosecutor’s Office to provide originals or copies of the documents about the case, as the ministry has decided to remove the ‘top secret’ status.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania maintains that he is confident that all the detainees are innocent. He plans to speak with government members about his position on this issue on Thursday.
He told journalists on Monday that he has made himself familiar with the documentation about the case and will speak with the prime minister about his views and the evidence to explain why he thinks the detainees are innocent.
Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani, who is from Alasania’s party the Free Democrats, said on Monday that a rule called ‘respect for the minister’ was violated in regard to Alasania, as she thinks each investigator and prosecutor should understand that when the minister is on a working visit, they must wait with detaining employees of his ministry.
“Each minister respects law enforcement and they require the same from them,” she said, adding that the Chief Prosecutor is responsible for the transparency of the investigation.
Alexi Petriashvili, who is also from the Free Democrats and is minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, said it is not an issue whether Alasania should be dismissed or resign. He said it is important to remove the ‘top secret’ status as soon as possible.
Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze, whose sister is Alasania’s wife, said she is confident that what Alasania is saying is true.
“The defense minister trusts his employees and is confident about their innocence. I am confident in the position of the defense minister and that he knows exactly what he is saying.”
Two days ago, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said in a TV interview that he ‘has questions’ to Alasania about this case to be more informed about what happened and that is why Alasania was meeting him on Monday.
The PM met with the Free Democrats and after the meeting Petriashvili said that Alasania presented additional arguments regarding the case, while the PM promised to make himself familiar with these arguments.
Silknet wrote in a press release that all its representatives who were involved in the tender process acted in line with all legal requirements and all general tender procedures, and accused the media of spreading slanderous information.