What’s happening: The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia opened a probe against two civil servants working at the Foreign Ministry and the Border Police, accusing them of conspiring to cede lands to Azerbaijan while being the members of the state commission on the delimitation of borders. The two have been remanded in custody.
Why is it important: The prosecution was tipped off by the Ministry of Defense currently led by Irakli Garibashvili, one of the Georgian Dream leaders, former Prime Minister. As the accusation concerns the time period when the United National Movement (UNM) was in power, it inscribes itself into a tense pre-election climate. Recent revelations by the key witness reveal that Bidzina Ivanishvili, GD patron, was personally involved.
Two state experts, Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova have been sent to pre-trial detention, facing charges under Article 308 (1) of the Criminal Code of Georgia: “actions directed at the violation of the territorial integrity of the country” which carries the prison term of ten to fifteen years.
According to the charges brought by the Prosecutor’s office, 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, concealed the original “1938 map, with scale 1:200 000” that was supposed to be used in the delimitation talks with Azerbaijan, that would have been more beneficial to Georgia.
As a result of them using the large-scale maps from 1970-80 as a basis for the border delimitation talks in 2006-07, the Prosecutor’s Office claims, a discrepancy amounting to 3500 hectares of land has emerged at the expense of Georgia’s interests.
The Prosecutor’s Office further noted that the experts made only a copy of the disputed map available to the commission – rather than the original that they have concealed. The accusation also claims that the two did not conduct the expert works diligently and failed to involve further cartography experts in deliberations.
For years, the undefined boundaries, comprising approximately 1/3 of the Georgia-Azerbaijan border, have been a sensitive issue for Georgians, particularly in relation to the section of highly revered medieval David Gareji monastery complex. Lastly, the issue came into a sharp focus in April 2019, when Azerbaijani border guards restricted access to parts of the Monastery. Georgian authorities have been recently voicing their intentions with Azerbaijani colleagues on the possible revision of the border.
The “discrepancies” that were mentioned by the Prosecutor’s Office in this latest case and the map portions that were shown in the official announcement do not relate to the David Gareji section of the border. Yet, several clerics, one of them the key witness in the case, and politicians have linked the “Cartographers’ Case” to an alleged ceding of David Gareji Georgian lands to Azerbaijan.
Accusations of ceding some of David Gareji monasteries and caves had featured prominently on the agenda of Georgian right-wing forces, including the Alliance of Patriots – a Kremlin-friendly nativist party who had been calling for investigations into land concessions before.
The sensitivity of the question, coupled with the alleged involvement of the United National Movement government – major opposition party at present – is what makes many believe in the political motives behind the investigation. Georgian CSOs, opposition politicians, as well as the family of suspect Melashvili, believe that the probe is driven by the pre-election agenda.
The announcement of the investigations days after the eruption of military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has further strained the environment, raising worries over the possible negative impact on bilateral relations with Azerbaijan. In this respect, the leaders of the ruling party kept releasing statements to assure the public of the domestic dimension of the investigations, claiming that Azerbaijan “will remain our strategic ally and partner.”
Case Files and Witness Testimonies
(As clarified later by the lawyer of one of the suspects, respective boundaries have been agreed and signed by the commissions in 2006-07 “on a technical level” and is not conclusive for the final definition of the state boundaries. The agreements, however, were supposed to be used for the future treaties on the Ministerial level, as well as during their ratification).
Origins of the Case
The probe was initiated on the basis of the request by the Ministry of Defense. It can be traced back to the suspicions raised by Archimandrite Kirion (Zaza Oniani) of the David Gareji Monastery. Kirion has been affirming that all elements of the David Gareji monastery were within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic and has claimed the “1938 map with scale 1:200 000” proved this position. His testimony has been quoted in media, accusing Iveri Melashvili of pursuing a position damaging to Georgia, and “not sparing efforts to confuse him [the Archimandrite]”, by having first denied that the commission was in possession of the “1938 map with scale 1:200 000.” He accuses that Melashvili first denied having the relevant “map” but then admitted to owning it. In his telephone remarks, Kirion told the media that Mrs. Ilychova also denied having the respective map, a claim officially seconded by the Prosecutor during the initial hearing of the case.
According to the account by Archpriest Saba Chikaidze, Archimandrite Kirion, suspicious of experts’ work, has notified Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili “who was very interested and took this issue under his personal supervision.” Garibashvili, reportedly, notified Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, who, on his part, forwarded the matter to businessman David Khidasheli, who was able to find the original maps in Russia and transfer them to Georgia.
Melashvili’s defense continuously denied Archimandrite Kirion’s claims, saying that events described in the Archimandrite’s testimony had never happened.
Who is David Khidasheli?
Khidasheli presents himself as a Georgian businessman who has been residing in Switzerland for 25 years and taking interest in cartography since 2000. In 2007-14 he has been an executive vice-president of AFK Sistema PAO – a Russian conglomerate owned by the tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov, Russia’s 15th richest man, according to Forbes.
Khidasheli is currently the board chairman of the Greek INTRACOM S.A. TELECOM SOLUTIONS company. It is founded by a controversial Greek businessmen Sokratis Kokkalis, whose linkage to the East German Stasi special police and Russia were the matters of lively controversy. In June 2006, JSC SITRONICS, the technology arm of JSFC SISTEMA, acquired a 51% stake in INTRACOM TELECOM. By 2015, through a series of share swaps, a newly founded INTRACOM MIDDLE EAST FZE became the sole proprietor of INTRACOM.
It was Khidasheli who, at the request by Georgian authorities, reportedly located and delivered the “lost” maps. The businessman told the media that in September 2019 he was called personally by Bidzina Ivanishvili, whom he had known since 2017. During this call, Ivanishvili reportedly asked Khidasheli for help with finding the maps and told him to follow up with Defense Minister Irakli Gharibashvili.
Khidasheli says he was able to trace and deliver up to 50 maps and relevant documents in July-August this year, including the maps obtained from Russian state archives. He apparently asked the experts of the Russian federal agency Roskartographiya (АО «Роскартография») to compare and analyze the relevant maps.
Khidasheli’s links with Russia have raised alarm in the Georgian opposition-minded media, suspecting Russia’s possible meddling in the affair.
What Are the Contested Maps?
Case files and arguments of the parties refer to several disputed maps, including:
“Statutory 1938 map” with a scale of 1:500 000 – this map has been agreed and ratified by Supreme Councils of three Soviet Republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia in 1938. That agreement later served as a basis of the 1996 agreement between the deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and Azerbaijan, which says that this map (Statutory 1938 map) serves as a basis for the future delimitation and demarcation of the border between the two states. Proceedings, however, reportedly allowed for use of other, larger-scale maps to complement their work, should the small-scale statutory map be insufficient for defining certain coordinates.
While defendants and defense lawyers argue that this is the exact map the suspects have been relying on, presenting respective signed documents as evidence, Khidasheli claims that he “has not seen” the authentic version of the Statutory 1938 map (1:500 000) to date, and was instead presented [presumably by commission members] with a suspicious copy of some administrative map provided by the Armenian side. Mr. Melashvili explains that since the original of that map was not preserved in Georgia, the commission members traveled to Armenia and traced the original one preserved there, which was then used in negotiations with Baku.
The Prosecutor’s Office does not question the authenticity of the map used by the Georgian commission members but claims that the 1:500 000 map used by the commission leaves “several historic objects” on Azerbaijan’s territory. The prosecution also argued that it is “useless to conduct cartographic work, as such outlines do not include exhaustive topographic information and do not contain geographic objects and topographic elements.”
Large scale 1936-1938 map/maps (1:200 000) – also referred to as 1936-37, 1937-1938, 1932-1936, 1932-1933, or 1936-39 map(s) – were reportedly composed by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD/НКВД) based on sets of older maps – the cadaster maps from the period of the Russian empire, as well as later military maps. The Prosecutor’s office claims that these larger-scale maps define Georgia’s historic borders most accurately. They accuse Melashvili and Ilichova of concealing these maps on purpose to avoid their use. Interestingly, the Georgian Patriarch has mentioned these very maps in his October 2019 letter, claiming they were the precursors for the 1938 Statutory map (1:500 000).
The Georgian commission held the view that according to the 1996 intergovernmental agreement, wherever the precursor maps deviate from the Statutory map, the latter prevails, wherever the alterations and clarifications can only be made by subsequent, corrected maps depicting the administrative boundary of the Azerbaijani and Georgian SSR and approved by the duly authorized authorities at the time.
The Prosecution sides with the view of the Defense Ministry experts, the Patriarchy, and Khidasheli that the 1978 maps used by the commission to clarify the elements of the Statutory 1938 map cede more than 16,000 hectares of land to Azerbaijan against Georgian interests.
Melashvili and his lawyers dispute the usefulness and legal force of the map “discovered” by Khidasheli. They claim that it shows major apparent discrepancies and errors compared to the Statutory 1:500 000 map and is therefore useless as a legal document in negotiations.
Giorgi Mshvenieradze, Head of Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), Georgian watchdog which represents Melashvili in court, explains that the prosecution refers to four maps that use each other as a source and were compiled in 1931-1933, finalized in 1936, and published in 1937 in 4000 copies.
The defendants also argue that these 1936-1938 maps, even if they were to be used, would concede further territories and historic sites, including currently uncontested parts of David Gareji monastery complex to Azerbaijan.
Large-scale maps of the 1940s – both Khidasheli and Mshvenieradze agree that, following the 1938 agreement, Soviet authorities produced more specified, larger-scale maps. According to Khidasheli, the map composed in 1942 and published in 1945 conceded Georgian territories. He claims that the commission used the later iterations of this very map to clarify the portions insufficiently covered by the Statutory map and thus conceded Georgia’s territories. According to Mshvenieradze, the first map, issued in 1941 is more accurate and was used by the state experts during the talks. He argues that, by the 1945 map [different from the 1941 version], the Georgian SSR has agreed to concede some territory, but luckily, the Azerbaijan SSR did not ratify the document at the time. Mshvenieradze argued that it was partly due to Melashvili’s efforts that the Georgian side avoided basing the talks on this, 1945 map.
Later large-scale maps – Prosecutor’s Office accuses both experts of using maps published in 1970-1980 with scales of 1:50,000 and 1:100,000, which depict boundaries at the expense of Georgian interests as compared to the 1936-1938 map. Khidasheli further presented maps published in the 1950-1970s by the U.S. and German authorities to support the usefulness of the “original” 1936-1938 map. So far, not many details are known about the 1970-80 maps.
Further Arguments of Defense
Melashvili and Ilichova reject the accusations. Contrary to the Prosecution’s claim, they argue that they never concealed the existence of the larger scale, 1936-1938 map. The defense has been arguing that suspects were basing their work on the Statutory 1938 map, as agreed in 1996 between the two governments. They also argue that while the map allegedly “discovered” by Khidasheli is dated 1938, it was actually based on an original from 1930. According to the accused, the existence of this map was known to the commission and the political leadership since the 1990s, and they were discarded as containing too many flaws and mistakes to be used during delimitation. The defense has testimonies that, far from concealing that map, it was Ilychova who helped discover it at the Border Police archives in the first place. According to the defense, the question of the applicability of the larger-scale maps came up again in the border delimitation commission and was discussed in 2013-2015 when Irakli Gharibashvili was Prime Minister, and later in 2018 with then Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze apparently solicited expert comparison of these maps with the Statutory 1938 map and due to the discovered flaws, decided not to bring up the matter with the Prime Minister.
Moreover, the defense lawyers say that contrary to the political statements of the government officials, the prosecution does not refer in its materials to the section of David Gareji Monastery complex, which has not yet been agreed upon with the Azerbaijani side even on a technical level. Thus, says the defense, the speculations concerning the alleged ceding of the historical and religious sites by the accused are materially groundless.
Also, according to the defense, the Georgian authorities have presented the larger scale 1936-38 map to the Azerbaijani side during one of the latest meetings of the border delimitation commission, already after Melashvili had quit the commission. But the Azerbaijani side refused its use for discussions. On this count, argues the defense, the government’s media statements that Georgia has reached a turning point in negotiations by the discovery of the “new” maps is groundless and serves political campaigning purposes, in which the accused are used as pawns.
Giorgi Mshvenieradze further refuted the accusations that Ilichova concealed the map since the prosecution interrogation notes show that she confirmed having the 1:200 000 map in her possession. The prosecution said it has seized the said map from the workplace of Ilychova, although her co-worker, who replaced Ilychova in the commission, testifies that she was handed over all the materials – including the “concealed” map in 2019, when she was rotated out of the commission. The two civil servants share their office, which explains the map being in their shared safe cabinet.
Remaining Questions and Inconsistencies
Amid the complicated context, several major inconsistencies in the case have already come to light.
Pre-trial detention: the court has sent both suspects into pre-trial detention, which is an exceptional measure aimed at preventing the accused from destroying the evidence or fleeing justice. The defense says none of these points are relevant to the case. „Prosecutor’s office wants to keep these persons under detention” to score political points, Melashvili’s lawyer said.
Motives of the crime: defense and independent lawyers point out that the prosecution has so far failed to name any motives behind the alleged crime.
“Concealed” maps: the defense says the charge of concealing the information (maps) is patently groundless since the maps in question were repeatedly discussed by the commission and reviewed by the political leadership.
“Historical border”: according to the Prosecutor’s Office, the large-scale maps used by the experts (1970-80) did not reflect the “historical border” of Georgia, including with respect to David Gareji, while the small-scale Statutory map (1:500 000) of 1938 was completely useless in defining the relevant details. It remains, however, unclear, on what legal or argumentative basis the prosecution claims that the 1936-1938 map does accurately reflect the “historical border”.
Khidasheli’s testimony: there is apparently a lack of consistency and contradictions between the testimony given by David Khidasheli to the prosecution (which has been leaked in media) and his remarks during the October 13 televised interview. In the official testimony, Khidasheli said he was approached by one Bezhan Maisuradze with the request to find the maps. In an interview given to the Georgian media later, Khidasheli said it was Bidzina Ivanishvili personally who asked him for this favor, while Maisuradze was someone he, Khidasheli, asked to be the go-between with the Defense Ministry (The Georgian media reported that Khidasheli was summoned by the Prosecutor’s Office for questioning to clarify the discrepancy).
Maisuradze’s persona came to media attention for his alleged earlier links with Igor Giorgadze, ex-chief of the Georgian KGB from the 1990s who is wanted on charges of organizing a terrorist attack against Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia’s former president and who found refuge in Moscow.