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New Charity, Associated with Ivanishvili, Warned It May Breach Law

A new charity foundation, which has become associated with Bidzina Ivanishvili’s opposition coalition Georgian Dream, designed to, as its founders say, provide assistance, including financial, to “the victims of political repressions”, has been warned by watchdog groups and state audit agency that its activities may come in conflict with the legislation.

It was announced on May 14 that the charity would be established to provide “legal aid, moral and financial support” to those, who had fallen victims to “the authorities political repression”. The charity also vowed monetary aid from GEL 1,500 to GEL 5,000 to families of “political prisoners”.

Ia Metreveli, chairperson of the foundation, said that the idea of such a charity came after series of sacking of public school teachers for their political views. It has been reported that some teachers in the provinces lost their job for their support to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of Georgian Dream opposition coalition. She said that the charity was expecting donations to the foundation to come mainly from those Georgian expatriates. The charity’s statement, released on May 14 includes several bank accounts where donations can be made and one of the recipients is Cartu charity, founded and funded by Bidzina Ivanishvili.

“Do not be afraid of pressure from the authorities and do not be afraid of losing source of income. Everyone, who will be fired [by an employer] because of political reasons, or who will face any other problem, will receive financial assistance. A foundation, Komagi, has been founded for that purpose. Our compatriots and businessmen living abroad will donate to this foundation,” the Georgian daily, Rezonansi, quoted ex-public defender Sozar Subari of Ivanishvili’s political party Georgian Dream–Democratic Georgia.

The state audit agency, Chamber of Control, which is in charge of monitoring political finances, said in a statement that such a foundation with its declared goals “openly creates a possibility for the law on political finances to be violated.”

“It causes concern and requires a preventive reaction,” the state audit agency said, adding that it will monitor the charity’s activities closely and will “resort to measures defined by the law in case of violation of the legislation.”

A group of watchdog organizations, among them Transparency International-Georgia; Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, released a joint statement on May 15, which shares the concern of the state audit agency in respect of the new charity.

“Georgian law bans political parties from directly or indirectly offering, promising or providing money, services or other advantages to their constituents in order to prevent the buying of votes,” the statement reads. “We urge all political actors to refrain from any activities that could be perceived as bribing of voters by offering free services or gifts in order to increase their public support.”

“Providing any monetary or nonmonetary advantages might have a significant impact on voters’ behavior and their relationships to political parties and candidates,” the watchdog groups said.

Archil Kbilashvili, a lawyer and a member of Ivanishvili’s political party, told the daily Rezonansi that the new charity’s activities would not come in conflict with the legislation.

“Bribing voter is an action, when you promise material benefit in exchange of a support [in elections]. In this case, as far as I know, the foundation’s activities will only cover those who will fall under the authorities’ repressions. So it is wrong to put the foundation’s activities under the voter bribing category,” Kbilashvili said.

Ia Metreveli, chairperson of the new charity, said at a news conference on May 15, that the Komagi foundation had nothing to do with any political organizations and added that linking Komagi to Ivanishvili was a misinterpretation by press reports.

Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party, part of the Ivanishvili-led opposition coalition, denied on May 15 the new charity was linked to the Georgian Dream and its leader.

Before coming into political billionaire Ivanishvili was well-known in Georgia mainly for his generous charitable activity through his Cartu and several other foundations. Cartu still continues its charitable projects, a representative of the foundation told Civil.ge on May 15.

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