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14 people convicted over Tbilisi tourist bar scam

6 December 2022
Photo: Promotional image from Kalakuri club.

Tbilisi City Court has found 14 people guilty of scamming tourists in two Tbilisi clubs.

On Tuesday, the Prosecutor’s Office announced that the court had fully agreed to their motion to convict 14 people, including the owner of Tbilisi nightclubs Kalakuri and Royal, for targeting foreign nationals with fraud. 

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the owner of the two clubs set up a group of five individuals to run a scheme in which ‘promo girls’ contacted tourists in Tbilisi through social media, and arranged to meet them in the clubs. 

After having food and drinks ordered on their behalf by the women, tourists were given unreasonably high bills and faced intimidation and ‘psychological pressure’ if they tried to evade paying.

The case revolved around ₾9,340 ($3,500) which was scammed from ‘six citizens of Yemen, Egypt, India, Sudan, and Belarus’. 

The owner of the clubs and five leading members of the group were convicted of fraud by an organised group that caused substantial damage, with the club owner sentenced to eight years and six months in prison, and two club managers to eight years each. The other defendants avoided prison sentences through plea bargains. 

The defendants were arrested in March, and investigators claimed to have seized a total of $9,100 in cash in seven currencies.


A recurring issue

Dozens of negative reviews online of Kalakuri warning of the scam date back to three years ago, with similar reviews of Royal club beginning to appear one year ago.

In recent years, foreign nationals visiting Tbilisi have frequently reported similar stories online, with some admitting to paying the fraudulent charges after facing threats and intimidation. 

Last year, the authorities prosecuted the owner and a waiter from Scarpa Bar in downtown Tbilisi over a similar scam. The bar was investigated after a Chinese citizen claimed to have had ₾15,000 ($5,600) charged to his credit card by the bar while he was unconscious. 

In June 2019, the Georgian Public Broadcaster conducted an experiment and found that their undercover reporter was grossly overcharged for several drinks in a Tbilisi bar that they had been told was scamming tourists. 

Some of the victims of such bill scams in Tbilisi allege online that they were intimidated or threatened by bouncers of the bar after disputing the bills. Some have also claimed that they were forced to withdraw cash from ATMs, accompanied by a bouncer. 

‘This nightclub is a pure scam. They use attractive girls to lure tourists in, the girls make an order, and the single order can cost upwards of ₾1,000. They employ a small army of fat bouncers to ensure you cannot leave until it is paid. Wearing good trainers and running for your life is the best option if you find yourself here, the bouncers aren't sprinters’, one review for Kalakuri said. 

Warnings against organised extortion in specific bars in Tbilisi have become part of online tourist guides, with some fearing that, if left unchecked, the practice could cause significant damage to Georgia’s tourism industry.