In their joint statement of October 8, 14 civil society organizations, including TI Georgia, ISFED, Young Lawyers Association, UN Association of Georgia, and Open Society Georgia Foundation asserted that the investigation into alleged ceding lands to Azerbaijan and the detention of two Border Demarcation Commission members – MFA’s Iveri Melashvili and Interior Ministry’s Natalia Ilychova – are “politically motivated.”
The leading CSOs, in particular, questioned the timing of the investigation some three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections, the ruling Georgian Dream party’s remarks on the case, as well as selective approaches taken by the Prosecutor’s Office during the investigation.
According to the watchdogs, launching the investigation during the pre-election period may be aimed at influencing voters, taking into account that Georgians regard the issue of the non-demarcated border with Azerbaijan as an “extremely sensitive topic.”
The organizations stated that the Georgian Dream party has previously addressed similar tactics, by initiating the investigations into the deaths of former PM Zurab Zhvania and billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili during pre-election periods.
The civil society outfits also noted that following the detention of Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova GD leaders made “politicized and populist” statements, violating the presumption of innocence, even before the Prosecutor’s Office brought charges against the two officials.
The NGOs further noted that the prosecution acted selectively, as in the alleged criminal case, which reportedly regards 2005-07, the investigation did not question President Zurabishvili, who then served as the Foreign Minister. The joint statement cited Iveri Melashvili as saying that during that period Zurabishvili’s Deputy served as the chairperson of the Border Demarcation Commission.
CSOs Suspect Russia’s Meddling
CSOs also recalled that the investigation is taking place in the wake of the renewed armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and that it is in Russia’s interests to fuel destabilization in Georgia including by trying to strain Georgian-Azerbaijani relations.
Citing media reports, the CSOs said the maps that factored into the POG’s decision to launch the investigation, may have been provided to the Defense Ministry by a businessman tied to the Russian intelligence agencies, who reportedly got hold of the maps with assistance from Russian intelligence officer Oleg Mubarakshin.
The CSOs also recalled that MP Irma Inashvili, leader of the Kremlin-friendly Alliance of Patriots party called for an investigation into the Border Demarcation Commission’s activities earlier on June 11.
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