fbpx

Become an OC Media Member

Support independent journalism in the Caucasus: Join today

Become a member

Abkhazia freezes assets of non-profit organisation citing tax evasion

23 April 2024

Abkhazia’s tax service has frozen the bank accounts of the Centre for Humanitarian Programmes (CHP) on grounds that members of the organisation have deemed unjustified and illegal.

Abkhazia’s tax service blocked CHP’s bank accounts on 15 April on suspicion of tax evasion, two weeks after an official tax inspection found no violations by the organisation.

CHP is a charitable organisation that provides legal and material assistance to people in Abkhazia.

Lyudmila Achba, a lawyer from the centre, told journalists that their beneficiaries would be left without legal assistance if the accounts were still blocked by the end of April.

‘The closure occurred on 15 April, so employees may be left without wages next month’, said Achba. ‘We also receive a lot of requests from people who need financial assistance. Whenever possible, we provide food and other material assistance.’

She stated that the freezing of their assets was illegal and aimed at exerting pressure on the organisation’s employees. She noted that officially, an organisation can only be inspected once a year, with unscheduled inspections only justified if violations were found during a scheduled inspection. 

The tax service has also singled out one of CHP’s employees, lawyer Said Gezerdaa, in an investigation into possible tax evasion through his entrepreneurial bank account, which he uses to receive payment for his work as a lawyer.

Advertisements

‘I have been expecting some action for a long time. And in this standard, well-known way, through the alleged non-payment of taxes, they began to apply pressure. This is all happening in the run-up to the [presidential] elections’, he said, speculating that his account was frozen because of his political views.

Abkhazia is scheduled to hold presidential elections in March 2025.

‘I always express my opinion critical of the processes that are happening today with Pitsunda, and with what is happening with democracy in Abkhazia, with this effectively authoritarian turn of ours’, he said.

Gezerdaa also accused their banks of violating confidentiality laws by providing the authorities access to his and CHP’s bank accounts.

‘These are standard ordinary fees, but they want to present that in addition to working activities, we are supposedly engaged in entrepreneurial activities, which is generally absurd’, he said.

Gezerdaa also said that the freezing of his and his organisation’s assets was politically motivated ahead of the Abkhaz Parliament’s discussion of the foreign agent law submitted by President Aslan Bzhaniya in February.

[Read more: Abkhazia proposes ‘foreign agent’ law]

‘The committee hearing of the bill on foreign agents still won’t pass, everything is being delayed. I think someone is simply putting together a folder for the MPs, where they will present this situation in a distorted form and put it on their desks’, he said.

‘They don’t have any evidence against us, on the contrary, if you look at what financial contribution we made to the country, it will override any of their attempts to accuse us of something illegal.’

Less than a week after the authorities froze CHP’s bank accounts, the Interior Ministry’s Investigation Department launched a criminal case against Azamat Bagatelia, the head of the Charitable Fund for Social and Cultural Initiatives, also on charges of tax evasion.

His organisation carries out projects to offer social protection for low-income and disadvantaged people in Abkhazia.

The ministry stated that the organisation’s legal classification as a charitable organisation expired in late February. The classification exempts charitable organisations from taxes, fees, and other payments.

They accused Bagatelia of intentionally evading taxes amounting to more than ₽1.5 million ($16,000), despite the latter having paid the amount since the Charitable Fund lost its charitable organisation status.

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

Read in Georgian on On.ge.
Read in Russian on SOVA.News.