Georgian opposition leader Anna Dolidze has proposed a law to ‘de-Cartu’ Georgia, by banning former employees of the Cartu Group conglomerate of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili from high public office.
Dolidze, who chairs the non-parliamentary For the People Party, has argued that the overrepresentation in state bodies of such employees indicated Ivanishvili’s indirect rule over Georgia.
The topic of ‘de-oligarchisation’ has been at the centre of political discussions since Georgia was denied EU candidate status on 9 June. The EU said the country must undertake a number of reforms before their application could be reconsidered, including committing to ‘de-oligarchisation by eliminating the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political, and public life’.
An earlier resolution by the European Parliament was more clear-worded in identifying Ivanishvili. The resolution suggested he played a ‘destructive role’ in Georgia’s politics and economy and went as far as urging the EU to consider sanctioning him.
Speaking outside the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi on 14 June, Dolidze advocated for the parliamentary working group on de-oligarchisation to endorse her initiative.
On 1 July, the ruling Georgian Dream party, founded by Ivanishvili, vowed to set up a working group to develop an anti-oligarchy law before December in response to the EU’s recommendations. However, party leaders firmly ruled out that the draft law would concern Ivanishvili, who they have insisted is not an oligarch.
Dolidze, with a background in civil society activisim, served as deputy Defense Minister for over a year until Georgian Dream disbanded as a coalition in 2016. She later became one of the loudest critics of ‘clan’ rule in the judiciary and formed the For the People Party last year. In recent polls, Dolidze ranks among the most popular politicians.
A ‘last resort’ for Georgian Dream
Despite formally retiring from politics, employees of Ivanishvili’s business ventures continue to occupy the highest positions in government, including Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili.
Dolidze told OC Media that the main instrument to ‘capture Ivanishvili’s influence’ would be to focus on his personal and company employees.
She said they would not be able and should not be allowed to occupy high political positions in Georgia.
‘Here, I mean the employees who had served some period of time in his companies. We can agree on this period, but it would not be six months or one year’.
She said such a law would apply to up to six ministers in the current Georgian Dream-led cabinet.
Since launching her campaign last week, Dolidze has several times underlined that a ban for former Ivanishvili employees would not curtail a general right to political activity but restrict only the right to occupy high official positions.
Georgian legislation defines ‘state-political official’ as the Georgian President, heads of Georgia’s autonomous regions, members of parliament, and government cabinet ministers and their deputies.
Dolidze told OC Media that she would equally welcome legal initiatives with a much broader, impersonal framework, to deal with any oligarch in Georgia, like a law adopted recently by Ukraine.
While she said the Georgian authorities were currently ‘on a full frontal attack against the US Embassy’ and were ‘putting up a fight to increase the cost of removing Ivanishvili from politics’, a legal solution would eventually be their only way out of crisis.
‘I would think that Georgian Dream would agree to all sorts of framework measures to deal with Ivanishvili’s influence rather than face the prospect of him being sanctioned internationally. I think it would be their last resort’, she said.
She also vowed to campaign to raise public awareness of the rationale behind her proposal.
‘The idea of informal governance is very well explored in the literature; however, this is not widely accessible to public and political groups here, so what I’m doing here is engaging in all sorts of public discussions trying to explain how informal governance works’, she said. ‘I think it will take some explaining.’
According to Dolidze, her suggested limitations would apply to Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, Defence Minister Juansher Burchuladze, Minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure Irakli Karseladze, Finance Minister Lasha Khutsishvili, Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee Chair Davit Matikashvili and others.
All of those listed are known to have had business relations with Ivanishvili in the past.
The list of former Ivanishvili associates who had served or are currently serving in high government positions is even longer.
Like the current Infrastructure Minister, his predecessors, Maia Tskitishvili and Nodar Javakhishvili have similarly worked for the Cartu Group. The same goes for the former Minister for Economy and Finance, Irakli Kumsishvili (2016–2017).
Ivanishvili’s former associates also include Interior Ministery Vaghtang Gomelauri, who used to head his security detail. A similar position was held by Anzor Chubinidze, who now leads Georgia’s Special State Protection Service. Additionally, the Head of State Security Service, Grigol Liluashvili used to work for Ivanishvili before he came into power.
The former Chief Prosecutor (2018–2019) and now a lifetime supreme court judge Shalva Tadumadze was previously Ivanishvili’s personal lawyer.
Hours before Dolidze unveiled her proposals to ‘de-Cartu’ Georgia, the Prime Minister published a lengthy update on Facebook mentioning Bidzina Ivanishvili 39 times.
Gharibashvili argued that calling Bidzina Ivanishvili an ‘oligarch’ was offensive, while also adding that staffing government positions since 2012 with Ivanishvili’s former associates was still merit-based.
‘When one is choosing people for the governing positions, naturally, one cannot bring in strangers, and first of all, one relies on those who went through the hardest battle together and handled their work with a high degree of professionalism’, Gharibashvili opined.
On Monday, Gharibashvili sent a translated copy of his Facebook post to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
In addition to former Cartu employees, many important public positions are also held by former employees of Ivanishvili’s TV company, GDS.
Former GDS associates include deputy Finance Minister and former head of Revenue Services Mikheil Dundua, the First Deputy Chair at the Competition Agency, Levan Kalandadze, and the Chair of Board of Trustees and the former Director of the publicly funded Georgian Public Broadcaster, Vasil Maghlaperidze.
‘In Georgia, signs of state capture are evident in all three branches of government’, watchdog group Transparency International Georgia (TI) concluded in late 2020.
‘Without holding any official position of public accountability, Bidzina Ivanishvili has successfully managed to place key Georgian public institutions, including ones supposed to be independent by law, in the service of his private business interests and security’, the group said.