On October 7, the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia (POG) stated that it detained two Border Demarcation Commission members Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova, regarding the recently initiated criminal investigation into ceding lands to Azerbaijan.
Iveri Melashvili, Head of the Service of Georgian State Border Delimitation, Demarcation and Border Relations of the Department of Neighboring Countries at the Foreign Ministry, as well as Natalia Ilychova, Chief Inspector of the Land Border Defense Department of the Border Police, an agency operating under the Interior Ministry, were both members of the Commission during both the previous United National Movement and the current Georgian Dream-led governments.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia, Melashvili and Ilychova hid the 1938 map, that was supposed to be used in the delimitation talks. Instead, the Prosecutor’s Office argued, the experts deliberately used maps from the 1970-80s when agreeing on the state border.
The Office stated that the discrepancy between the original 1938 maps and what was agreed upon by the Border Delimination Commission up until 2007, amounts to 3500 hectares of land.
The Prosecutor’s Office further noted the detainees did not conduct the necessary expert works and did not include cartography specialists when working on the border demarcation with Azerbaijan.
Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova are now facing investigation under Article 308 (1) of the Criminal Code of Georgia, involving a violation of the territorial integrity of the country, which foresees imprisonment for a term of ten to fifteen years.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia made the announcement on initiating the investigation on September 29, some two days after the renewed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The POG said it started probing into the case following information received from the Defense Ministry of Georgia on August 17.
Melashvili earlier denied allegations, noting that while the State Commission worked “no one was given anything, no territory was ceded.”
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili slammed the investigation as “long-planned provocation” against him and the United National Movement aiming “to build an entire story on how we sold the Georgian soil.”
Two-thirds of the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan have been agreed, while the remaining one-third of the border, where the medieval David Gareji Monastery complex is located, has yet to be agreed. Lack of agreement on where the border passes came into a sharp focus in April 2019, when Azerbaijani border guards restricted access to parts of the Monastery.
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- Orthodox Church: Issue of David Gareji “Remains Unresolved”