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Opposition Raided in Adjara, as Tbilisi Targets Batumi’s Finances

While the General Prosecutor’s Office targets Adjarian leadership’s financial empire’s peaces, the opposition offices are violently raided in Adjarian capital Batumi.

The opposition rally in Batumi on February 20 demanded Abashidze’s resignation. The violence in Adjara coincided with the visit of Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary General Walter Schwimmer in Batumi. The CoE Secretary General, who arrived in Georgia on February 18, held talks with Aslan Abashidze and the opposition representatives and called the both sides for “a constructive dialogue”. 
“Even being in the airport before my departure from Batumi, I was urging Mr. Abashidze to hold talks not only with Tbilisi, but also with the local opposition. The constructive dialogue has no alternative,” Walter Schwimmer told the press conference in Tbilisi after arrival from Batumi.

The CoE Secretary General also called Aslan Abashidze to refrain from using force. 
While the supporters of the Adjarian leader were raiding the opposition’s rally and their offices, the National Security Council was holding an emergency session in Tbilisi to discuss recent developments in troubled region.
After the session Secretary of the National Security Council Vano Merabishvili told reporters, that President Saakashvili ordered the Security and Interior Ministers, as well as the Prosecutor General, to investigate the Batumi violence.
“We call on the Adjarian law-enforcement agencies to prevent violence in Batumi. All those responsible for the violence will be strictly punished,” Vano Merabishvili said.
Movement Our Adjara, which is a key opposition to Abashidze’s government, issued a statement saying that Adjarian leader is personally responsible for the violence that took place in Batumi on February 20.
“In these conditions it is impossible to hold the pre-election campaign in Adjara, [for March 28 parliamentary elections],” Edward Surmanidze, one of the leaders of Our Adjara said at a news briefing on February 20 in Tbilisi.
The recent conciliatory stance between Tbilisi and Batumi seems to be fading away. The first severe confrontation between Abashidze and Saakashvili started with the war of words, when on February 18 President Saakashvili asked the Adjarian leader to arrive in Tbilisi; however Abashidze defied the President’s request.
“Now we have normal relations, but if Aslan Abashidze does not arrive in Tbilisi, it will be regarded as disobedience,” Saakashvili told reporters on February 18.
Abashidze has not visited Tbilisi for last decade under the pretext of lack of security guarantees. Abashidze said on February 18 that the central authorities should investigate the alleged failed terrorist acts which have been plotted in Tbilisi against his life.

“I do not intend to arrive in Tbilisi until the central authorities investigate the terrorist acts which have been plotted in Tbilisi against me,” Aslan Abashidze told reporters.
In the wake of this war of words, the General Prosecutor’s Office launched investigation into alleged illegal transactions and money laundering by the Batumi-based Maritime Bank of Georgia and to probe the Omega Group, a firm suspected in large-scale illegal import of cigarettes. According to unofficial reports, the both Maritime Bank and Omega Group is a powerful financial foothold for the Adjarian leadership.

“Everybody knows that Maritime Bank and Omega are associated with Aslan Abashidze and his regime. Adjarian leadership made all the financial transactions through the Maritime Bank,” Davit Berdzenishvili of Republican Party, which is in Abashidze’s opposition, says.
The Adjarian leadership claims the investigation against the Maritime Bank and the Omega Group is “politically-motivated.” 
The probe of the Omega Group sparked wave of criticism towards the new leadership accusing the government in pressuring media sources, as Omega Group owns several media outlets – Iberia TV, news agency Media-News, newspaper Akhali Epoka (New Epoch) – the latter ceased publishing after the search operations in the Omega’s offices.

The employees and supporters of the Omega Group held a rally in front of the State Chancellery on February 21. They accused the authorities of “launching a campaign against legal business and free media.”

The Omega Group also owns printing house and a BMW Service Center. However, the main business of the firm is import of cigarettes.

As General Prosecutor Irakli Okruashvili says a search of Omega’s offices had turned up seven stamps used to make fake excise labels that had caused $6 million worth of damage to the state in lost tax revenues.

Prosecutor General Irakli Okruashvili said on February 21, that four persons, who are wanted by the law enforcers for alleged “links with the illegal activity of Omega Group, are hiding in the Adjara Autonomous Republic.”


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