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Controversy over Moscow’s New Sokhumi-based Law Enforcement Center Continues

The agreement on the joint Russian-Abkhaz “Information-Coordination Center,” to be established for coordinating the activities of Russian and Abkhaz police agencies in fighting “organized crime and other dangerous types of crimes,” stirred controversy in Abkhazia; local politicians and organizations expressed their opposition to the Center, both before and after the May 18 agreement.

In response to public criticism, the parliament in Sokhumi adopted a statement in support of the Center on May 22. The document said that the agreement on the Center is in line with both the Abkhaz constitution and the treaty on “the alliance and strategic partnership” signed between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba on November 24, 2014.

The statement also stressed that the Center staff is limited to 20 persons, that the Center’s leadership is going to be rotated between Russia- and Sokhumi-appointed officers, and that the Center will not be authorized to conduct “operative-investigative activities.”

The statement also said that the claims on the possibility of amending the agreement without the Sokhumi parliament’s approval are false “either unintentionally or on purpose,” adding that any such amendments would need parliament’s ratification.

The Sokhumi parliament rejected the calls that the Center should answer to the parliament itself, saying that, according to the agreement, it will answer to Russian and Abkhaz interior ministries.

It also dismissed the criticisms on the immunity envisioned by the agreement for the Center’s Russian staff and their families, as well as its property, saying that these issues were “solved in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.” The Sokhumi parliament added in its statement that as a result of several other agreements with Russia during the previous years, “immunities and privileges are enjoyed by several thousand foreign citizens.”

Meanwhile, former Sokhumi interior minister and parliament member Raul Lolua, who joined fifteen parliament members (Abkhaz parliament has 35 members) in requesting to postpone signing of the agreement, held a press briefing, saying that a staff of 20 would not be enough to conduct the activities envisioned for the Center, adding that either this meant that something about the Center was not fully disclosed, or that the agreement’s authors were incompetent.

Lolua also said that the type of immunity envisioned for the Center and its Russian staff was enjoyed “neither by the [Abkhaz] president nor by a member of [the Abkhaz] parliament.”

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