Friday, 28 September 2007

Georgia: Despite 'roses', a typical South Caucasus story

“A former Georgian defence minister, Irakli Okruashvili, has been arrested on charges of money-laundering, abuse of power and extortion, officials say. It comes two days after he alleged that the president had instructed him to kill a prominent businessman - claims dismissed by the government as untrue. […] Earlier this week, he launched his own opposition party, accusing President Mikhail Saakashvili of corruption. […] Mr Okruashvili also alleged that Mr Saakashvili's high-profile campaign against corruption was a sham.”

Not that I know the insight of the story or whose allegations is right or wrong. What strikes me though that the arrest followed allegations made by ex-Minister. One would assume that the “charges of money-laundering, abuse of power and extortion” pressed by Georgian authorities should have been known to them for a long time; these serious allegations could not just arise within a day or so. So why did not they press charges before, why only now, when ex-Minister made his allegations against Georgian President Saakashvili? A classic example of state level blackmail, isn’t it? Ironically, these events unfolded at a time when Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index by country, indicating 'progress' made in Georgia in this field. After all, not everything is that rosy in Georgia.

*pictures via BBC


Onnik Krikorian said...

IWPR has the most impartial coverage of this story so far.

Okruashvili made the comments while launching a new political party called the Movement for a United Georgia, and while he was speaking he was flanked by five members of parliament, two former journalists from the Rustavi-2 company, an ex-member of parliament, a former head of the armed forces general staff and a lawyer.

His attack on Saakashvili followed a government crackdown on a number of his political allies in his native Shida Kartli region, including the arrest of local governor Mikheil Kareli and another close comrade Dmitry Kitoshvili.

Many analysts believe Okruashvili launched a pre-emptive strike against the president because he was worried he would be arrested himself. In the event, this fear was self-fulfilling.


Analysts say that when Okruashvili was in government, he was the leader of the hawks who favoured the use of force to regain control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two regions which declared themselves independent from Tbilisi after conflicts in the early Nineties.

The ex-defence minister made great play of claims that Saakashvili missed a chance to regain South Ossetia in 2005.

“We were only a step away from reclaiming one of our lost territories. If only the president had not been incapable, weak and unable to take a historic political decision,” he said. “He was afraid of losing power.”

Observers believe Saakashvili’s decision to sack him as defence minister in late 2006 was taken under pressure from Washington, which was concerned about rising tensions surrounding the breakaway regions.

Political analyst Gia Nodia suggested Okruashvili was trying to position himself as a nationalist politician who might one day challenge the president.

“A certain section of society, people who are discontented with the current government, will fall for his remarks, even though they are unsupported by evidence,” he said. “Okruashvili aspires to become an opposition leader - the main alternative to the president - and eventually to win in a fair election. He has played the radical nationalist card by invoking the church and conflict issues.”

Speaking before news of Okruashvili’s arrest broke, Nodia said, “I think his tactics will lead him to lose in the long run.”

Still, as I said to some people I know who are involved with projects in Georgia, it's possible that Saakashvili tried to order the death of someone or to have another beaten.

This is the South Caucasus. This is the way things are settled. On the other hand, such allegations would also have come out a long time ago as well. The South Caucasus is also known for word spreading fast.

What interests me about this case are two things though, but not as you'd expect.

Firstly, when something like this happens in Georgia it creates a scandal inside the country. Here, when politicians such as Raffi Hovannisian accuse Kocharian of murder and corruption, nothing happens at all and everyone shrugs their shoulders and asks "so?"

For that reason alone, I am amazed at how much more vibrant Georgia is in terms of internal calls for change. There are none here.

Secondly, while I don't believe that Saakashvili is worth "billions" after 3 years in power, I don't doubt that he's not clean. However, you just can't compare corruption there with here, and again, it's amazing for me to compare.

Accuse a Georgian official of corruption and a scandal breaks. Do so here and people will look at you like, "Tell me something I don't know."

Anyway, I reserve other judgment on this story until more details are known. Nothing is clear or even backed up by facts so far. Ont he other hand, as I said, this is the South Caucasus and this is how things are done here. The only difference is as I said.

Whether the accusations are true or not, Georgians react. Armenians just accept their fate and continue on in the malaise.

The IWPR article is here.

artmika said...

For me, the most important and indicative part of this story is not the allegations per se (although they are outrageous), but the fact that political elite, and I am more concern with people in power, in this case President Saakashvili, collect and hold a dossier on others and use it only when it is needed for their own purposes, not for the sake of justice. Despite all ‘democratic’ and ‘anti-corruption’ cover, the reality is far from being even closer to it.

But yes, you are right, Onnik, while this sort of stories still considered a scandal in Georgia, in Armenia they became ‘one of the news items’, mostly passed ‘unnoticed’, with people so used to it, which is frightening….

nazarian said...

nazarian: .... Unzipped has also posted on this...

Onnik Krikorian said...

EurasiaNet also has something, and specifically makes reference to your point.

The timing of Okruashvili’s arrest has sparked censure from some Tbilisi analysts.

"[I]t means that the prosecutor general does not make the arrest as soon as it is known that [a crime has been committed]," said Giorgi Khutsishvili of Tbilisi’s International Center for Conflict Resolution. "The information is saved until the official becomes part of the opposition and then it is used against him."

"Regardless if Irakli Okruashvili is responsible for [the] possible crimes or accusations against him, right now he can be considered a political prisoner," he added.

Malkhaz Matsaberidze, a professor of political science at Tbilisi State University, agreed.

"This [arrest] is a mistake by the government," Matsaberidze commented. "If they wanted to arrest Okruashvili, they should have done it earlier."

The decision, however, was enough to convince some protest participants that the charges raised by Okruashvili against Saakashvili and his administration have merit. "If they hadn’t arrested him, it would have been difficult to say. But they arrested him. He was one of them. So that proved that he was right," argued 20-year-old Beka.

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Mikheil Machavariani has stated that a request will be made to the prosecutor’s office for an investigation into the accusations brought by Okruashvili.

Other Tbilisi residents, however, expressed mixed reactions to the allegations, with the situation seen as an internal power struggle that had little to do with their lives. "They’re eating each other," said one newspaper vendor. "Okruashvili and Saakashvili can’t both exist and have the same ambition."

What I don't get is why Saakashvili is keeping quiet and why the arrest was made when he is still out of the country. EurasiaNet says this on that matter, although I don't actually agree with the logic of this argument, but anyway.

Saakashvili, who is currently in Greece, has made no comment on the case. A presidential spokesperson said that the Georgian leader is expected back in Tbilisi on October 2 and will leave again on October 5 for a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Tajikistan.

Analysts Khutsishvili and Matsaberidze differ over the impact of Saakashvili’s ongoing silence about the arrest of his onetime political ally. While Khutsishvili termed the president’s ongoing absence and lack of commentary "disturbing," Matsaberidze argued that prominent Saakashvili supporters like Bokeria should handle the response.

"To respond in politics is to lose," he said.