Prosecution Says Detained Cartographers Followed Superiors’ Instructions

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia said it completed the criminal investigation against two official experts, Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova who are accused of ceding land to Azerbaijan during the border determination talks – a high-profile accusation that came to be known as the “The Cartographers’ Case” in Georgia.

In the January 21 statement, the Prosecutor’s Office said the two civil servants, acting upon their superiors’ instructions, used maps which “substantially contradicted” what it dubbed “Georgia’s historical borders” in demarcation talks with Azerbaijan.

The prosecution further noted that in 2006 the Georgian side at the delimitation talks agreed on several portions of the border with Azerbaijan, including the section which includes the monastic complex David Gareji, “to the detriment of the country’s interests.”

The Prosecutor’s Office presented as evidence a covert video and audio recording of a conversation between Iveri Melashvili and the former Chairman of the Delimitation Commission, Malkhaz Mikeladze, which was apparently obtained from Foreign Ministry premises in September 2020, before Melashvili’s arrest. Mr. Mikeladze heads the department for the neighboring states at the Foreign Ministry.

The prosecution argued the recording confirms Georgia faced a threat of losing some 3,500 hectares of its historical territories along the border, due to the “criminal activities” of Melashvili and Ilychova.

It cited Melashvili as saying in the recording that Georgian experts “mainly shared Azerbaijan’s position without any substantiation” in the delimitation talks.

Moreover, the Prosecutor’s Office noted that Melashvili, although critical of the said agreement, still signed the relevant document.

The Prosecutor’s Office said it has sent the case to Tbilisi City Court for consideration.

Defense indignant

The defense lawyers of arrested experts slammed the prosecution for not sharing this evidence with the defense, and thus “creating obstacles to effective implementation of the right to defense.”

Iveri Melashvili’s defense lawyer, Eduard Marikashvili said the Prosecutor’s Office is trying to play the public opinion, and trying to convince the public that Melashvili had admitted guilt.

“What we saw today [in covert recordings] does not prove that Melashvili and Ilychova were fulfilling someone’s instructions,” Ilychova’s defense lawyer, Nestan Londaridze said.

Head of the Georgian State Border Delimitation, Demarcation and Border Relations Service of the Neighboring Countries Department at the Foreign Ministry, Iveri Melashvili and Chief Inspector of the Land Border Defense Department of the Border Police, Natalia Ilychova were arrested on October 7, as part of the investigation launched into the case of ceding lands to Azerbaijan.

Two experts are charged under Article 308 (1) of the Criminal Code of Georgia, involving “actions directed at the violation of the territorial integrity of the country,” which carries the prison term of ten to fifteen years. The detainees are still denying all charges.

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