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Georgia’s Public Service Development Agency is printing fake ID documents in order to swing the country’s upcoming presidential election in favour Salome Zurabishvili, who has been endorsed by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, three leading transparency watchdogs have claimed.
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), Transparency International — Georgia, and the International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy (ISFED) called a press conference on Tuesday, where they said they had been informed of the scheme by a whistleblower from within the agency.
The source named a number of senior officials from the Public Service Development Agency who were allegedly in charge of the process, including the agency’s head, Soso Giorgadze, as well as the head of its internal audit service, Bezhan Obgaidze.
The Public Service Development Agency under the Ministry of Justice is responsible for issuing identification and other documents in Georgia.
The source allegedly revealed that a meeting was held on the matter last week.
‘According to the plan, five IDs would be issued per person with different names, surnames and ID numbers, but with the same photo’, a statement published by the groups on Tuesday said.
‘The data of such a person would be put in different precincts and thus one person would be able to vote in several precincts’.
The groups said the source did not know the scale of the plan, however, they told the groups that the ID documents were being printed in several of the agencies territorial branches.
‘According to the source, the heads of the territorial branches in several regions who were not “trustworthy” were forced to take a holiday. “Trusted” people were temporarily sent to replace them’, the statement reads.
The list of people allegedly not considered trusted included Arkadi Pipia, head of the Tsalenjikha branch and Zurab Khvedelidze, head of the Gardabani branch.
The people allegedly replacing them were Manuchar Nachkebia and Gvantsa Menapire. The statement claimed that Pipia had confirmed to the groups that he was on vacation.
The groups called for the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the allegations.
Public Service Development Agency head Soso Giorgadze responded to the allegations by calling them ‘outrageous’, and insisting they were false.
He demanded the groups provide proof of their claims and said he had already referred the matter to the law enforcement agencies to investigate.
‘All of us are offended by these rumours today’, he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Prosecutor’s Office said they were examining the allegations under article 362 of the criminal code — which deals with producing, purchasing, storing, selling, or using forged identity cards or other official documents.
The allegations came eight days before Georgians go to the polls for the second round presidential election.
In the first round, Salome Zurabishvili, who has been endorsed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, narrowly defeated the opposition United National Movement’s (UNM) Grigol Vashadze, winning 39% votes to 38%
On Monday, the groups accused the government of ‘vote buying’, after Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze announced plans to write off ₾1.5 billion ($570 million) in unpaid loans for ‘over 600,000’ people blacklisted by Georgian banks.
[Read on OC Media: PM promises to write off ₾1.5 billion in debts for 600,000 Georgians]
Finance Minister Ivane Machavariani said that the Cartu Foundation would ‘fully buy out’ the debts.
The Cartu Foundation, as well as the bank by the same name, is owned by the family of Georgian Dream party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili.
ISFED Chair Mikheil Benidze told OC Media that this latest announcement went beyond abuse of administrative resources, citing the mass character of the promise, the timing, and the Cartu Foundation’s relation to ruling party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili.