Georgia’s anti-corruption agency has indicted the mayor and the municipal council head of Borjomi Municipality, in southern Georgia’s Samtskhe–Javakheti Region, for accepting ‘large’ and ‘exceptionally large’ bribes.
On 29 February, the Anticorruption Agency under the State Security Service (SSG) arrested Mayor Levan Lipartia, from the ruling Georgian Dream Party, and Municipal Council Head Giorgi Gogichaishvili from the Alliance of Patriots.
Giorgi Ulumbegashivli, who according to local news site Samkhretis Karibche is a local businessperson and a friend of the mayor’s, was also arrested for ‘failing to report a grave crime’.
According to investigators, Gogichaishvili demanded ₾200,000 ($72,000) from businessperson Giorgi Metreveli in exchange for lobbying for changes to the local development regulation plan and issuing a construction permit. According to the SSG, he was apprehended immediately upon accepting an initial payment of ₾20,000 ($7,200).
An SSG spokesperson stated on Saturday that Mayor Lipartia accepted an ₾8,000 ($2,900) bribe from Metreveli in exchange for legalising illegal constructions.
Georgian news agency IPN cited prosecutor Beka Ezhishvili as saying that Lipartia asked for ₾10,500 ($3,800) in exchange for legalising the construction of three cottages in Bakuriani, a popular ski resort in Borjomi Municipality.
Gogichaishvili faces 11–15 years in prison if convicted while Lipartia faces 7–11 years.
On 1 March, Lipartia challenged the charges against him during a preliminary court hearing but promised to ‘sit at home’ and cooperate if freed on bail.
All three men were remanded into two months of pre-trial detention.
The two previously met with controversy after orchestrating the removal of the previous head of Borjomi’s municipal council, the only council in the country not controlled by the ruling party.
In April 2018, Gogichaishvili, then deputy head of the council, replaced Zaza Chachanidze after he was impeached by councillors.
[Read more on OC Media: Borjomi council impeaches head]
Chachanidze’s impeachment was the culmination of a months-long standoff between him and Borjomi mayor Levan Lipartia.
After the ruling Georgian Dream party failed to secure a majority on the council in autumn 2017 local elections, the council refused to sign off on pay raises for high-level officials at the Mayor’s Office.
Mayor Lipartia, supported by Gogichaishvili in the Council, went on strike with his staff over the refusal.
Gogichaishvili’s role in helping to depose a member of his own party as head of the council led to accusations that the Alliance of Patriots were secretly collaborating with Georgian Dream.
Chachanidze himself reiterated the accusations after being deposed.
The council greenlit the Mayor’s Office’s desired budget soon after Gogichaishvili’s appointment.