GEO

High-level corruption in Guria

08 November, 2010

One issue that we have been following recently is a case of alleged fraud by high government officials in Guria, who are accused of gaining personal enrichment from a program designed to grant land to farmers. The newspaper Guria News has been investigating the matter and has published several articles on the topic; we think this is an important story that should receive attention beyond the Georgian-language press, so we are publishing a summary of the Guria News's articles. First, some background. In 2007, the Georgian government issued a presidential order granting ownership rights to farmers who had been cultivating government land prior to 2007. This measure was designed to benefit farmers and simplify land ownership by granting legal title to farmers whose families might have been farming land they did not own for decades. However, in Guria, near Bakhmaro Recreation Area, some officials saw the presidential order as a way to acquire government land for free, according to Guria News. The Guria News articles claim that in August and September of 2008, the head of the Bakhamaro Police began clearing trees in the Bakhmaro Recreation Area. This was during the 2008 war with Russia, and when some locals and tourists questioned the Police Chief about the logging, he claimed that he was only following orders. After the land was cleared, according to the Guria News, the land was then divided, with the participation of the General Surveyor's office, among high-ranking local officials, who built luxurious cottages on the lots. In order to qualify for ownership under the 2007 presidential order, the officials forged documents claiming that houses were built on the land during late 1980s and early 1990s. They explained the newness of the current construction by claiming that the old houses had been recently destroyed by natural causes. To back up their claims, the officials created notarized documents signed by "neighbors" confirming that they had lived next to each other prior to 2007. These forgeries apparently satisfied the Environmental Protection Police (EPP), who did not take any action regarding the cottages until after the Guria News published its articles. Finally, in 2010, as a result of Guria News's articles and the subsequent investigation by the EPP, the Ozurgeti District Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into the cottages, which has so far resulted in the arrest of several local officials and the dismissal of others. The investigation is ongoing, and the Guria News claims that approximately 100 officials and 15 law enforcement officers were involved in the fraud, so it is possible that more arrests will follow. Here is a link to the original Guria News article (in Georgian only): http://gurianews.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/ელიტარული-კორუფცია-გურია/

Author: Nana Lobzhanidze