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Explainer | Whistleblower Alleges Security Services Collaboration with FSB

On 12 September, the opposition Lelo for Georgia party called for creating a special Parliamentary Investigative commission to study the allegations of illicit contacts between of the State Security Service of Georgia (SSG) with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2016-2017.

Why this matters:

Imprisoned former deputy of the State Security Service (SSG) Ioseb (Soso) Gogashvili has been making series of increasingly damaging allegations about the ruling party and the political influence it exerts on security services. His recent revelations are particularly detailed and damaging, in the context of shrinking international patience for illicit dealings with Russia.

What is in focus:

TV Pirveli aired an investigation on 10 September, which drew on Gogashvili’s claims that in 2016-2017 Georgian security officials have been meeting their Russian counterparts from the Federal Investigative Bureau (FSB) in secret. The topics of arrangements have allegedly been:

  • Illicit trafficking of goods – Gogashvili mentioned a sea shipment of ammonium nitrate to Syria via Georgian ports, and unspecified shipments by road and air routes. He says this system remains operational to this date, with border police and customs receiving regular requests to let pass certain goods and carriers without checks. Gogashvili claims the current head of SSG, Grigol Liluashvili coordinates the arrangement.
  • Granting Georgian citizenship to the Russian citizens indicated by FSB.
  • Illegal detention and deportation of the Russian citizens wanted by FSB in Georgia.

What are the allegations?

Gogashvili’s most explosive claims relate to the Georgian security services’ alleged collaboration with their Russian counterparts.

  • Gogashvili claims to have been meeting with FSB General Alexei Sedov in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, in 2016, to prepare a personal encounter between SSG Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri and FSB Director, Alexandar Bortnikov. For this task, he claims to have been directly tasked by Bidzina Ivanishvili, business tycoon and the founder of the “Georgian Dream”.
  • He names specific, verifiable circumstances of Gomelauri’s eventual air trip Vladikavkaz to meet Bortnikov. Gogashvili says the airplane needed to be freighted from Georgia’s “Airzena” company due to avalanche, and that pilots were under audio surveillance and claims to have the tapes available.
  • He alleges that in 2017 two Russian FSB generals, Sedov and Sergey Beseda were received in Georgia by SSG head Gomelauri, who hosted them in a restaurant in a town of Mtskheta (near Tbilisi) that he owns, then returned to Tbilisi for sightseeing and finished the day in one of the clubs.
  • Second meeting between Bortnikov and Gomelauri allegedly took place in Minsk also in 2017, but Gogashvili is not aware of the contents.

As specific cases of collaboration he also mentions:

  • SSG cleared with the FSB the name of the Russian embassy worker to be expelled in response to Salisbury attacks.
  • Gogashvili says his refusal to clear two persons for Ambassadorial nominations was overruled by Gomelauri quoting requests of Ivanishvili and (then Prime Minsiter) Kvirikashvili. The two, alleges Gogashvili were blacklisted by the Georgian counter-intelligence as Russian agents of influence.

Is any of this credible?

Gogashvili gives many details. Aleksandre Samkharadze, who served as Gogashvilis head of personal security, corroborates these claims and names more officers that were involved in logistics: Ioseb Chelidze, the current Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, and Irakli Chimakadze, Chief of the Counter-Terrorism Center of the SSG.

The ruling “Georgian Dream” party has downplayed the allegations as an “absurd” political ploy. GD spokesperson Mamuka Mdinaradze said during the briefing on 12 September Gogashvili’s “stories were hatched at the TV Pirveli news-desk.”

[UPDATE, 16 September]: Vakhtang Gomelauri responded to the allegations personally on September 15 calling them “absurd” and “lies”. He said he has never been to Vladikavkaz, neither has he hosted FSB officials in Tbilisi, and rejected the allegation that he owns a restaurant in Mtskheta. He said to have made five or six official visits to Minsk, but in multilateral formats, with “the British, Germans, Russians and Americans” also attending.”]

The abundance of verifiable factual details provided by Gogashvili, as well as his claims of possessing factual evidence, make the allegations sound credible, at least to the extent of warranting an inquest. Yet, no legal action has been taken.

Who is Gogashvili?

Unemployed, receiving social assistance benefits in 2011-2013, Gogashvili was appointed as the deputy head of department at the General Inspection of the Ministry of Internal Affairs following the October 2012 elections that brought the Georgian Dream to power. He acceded rapidly, and in 2015 was appointed as the First Deputy Minister of Interior and then the Deputy Head of Security Service, both times serving as a right-hand man of Gomelauri and – allegedly – the key “fixer”.

He was arrested and charged in July 2022, after the ruling party-affiliated pundit has aired secret audio recording of Gogashvili passing information to the opposition-leaning Mtavari TV. Gogashvili then said he blew whistle on the ruling party’s scheme to falsify the local elections.

What now?

The ruling party has indicated that it has no intention of fulfilling the opposition’s requests for investigation. The opposition may form the Parliamentary investigative committee if it gathers 50 MP votes.

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