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Georgian opposition moves to impeach prime minister for ‘misuse of state assets’

11 September 2023
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili (front left), his wife, Nunu Tamazashvili (front right), and their son, Nikoloz Gharibashvili (centre second row). Photo: Irakli Gharibashvili/Facebook.

Georgian opposition party Lelo has begun a process of consultation with other opposition groups regarding the possibility of impeaching Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili over allegations of personal use of state resources.

On Sunday, an MP from the Lelo party, Levan Samushia, accused Gharibashvili of abusing his office and called on other members of the opposition to support the party’s initiative to impeach the prime minister.

Samushia cited a TV Pirveli investigation into a trip Gharibashvili had taken to the United States. The investigation, which aired on Saturday, alleged that Gharibashvili used a government plane to fly to Munich on 19 August, where he caught a connection flight to America. The plane reportedly remained in Munich to fly Gharibashvili back to Georgia on 28 August.

Gharibashvili’s trip has caused controversy in Georgia, as critics have questioned the prime minister’s alleged use of state assets for personal travel. 

Vakhushti Menabde, a constitutional lawyer, wrote that Gharibashvili could be impeached if found in violation of the constitution or proven guilty of a crime.

He added that the opposition would require at least 50 votes in parliament to begin the impeachment process, and would require at least 76 in order to dismiss Gharibashvili.

On Monday, Irakli Kobakhidze, the chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, dismissed Lelo’s plans to impeach Gharibashvili as ‘speculation and nonsense’, while the party’s general secretary and mayor of Tbilisi, Kakha Kaladze, accused the opposition of trying to distract the public from the proposed impeachment of President Salome Zurabishvili.

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Zurabishvili is currently subject to an impeachment process for carrying out official visits in Europe that were not sanctioned by the government.

[Read on OC Media: Georgian Dream to begin impeachment proceedings against president]

‘For example, when it comes to the impeachment of the president because we actually have a very big crime when the president violates the constitution. This is the most difficult issue’, said Kaladze.

The United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s largest opposition group, also condemned Gharibashvili’s visit and called on him to resign. The party’s chair, Levan Khabeishvili, stated that the prime minister should also be detained.

‘Gharibashvili should not only resign and then be replaced by [Culture Minister Tea] Tsulukiani or [Irakli] Kobakhidze, but he should be detained. The fact that we will support his resignation is clear to everyone, although this person should also be held criminally responsible for these specific crimes’, said Khabeishvili.

The UNM’s anti-corruption secretary, Vaso Urushadze, and the party’s lawyer, Lasha Tkesheladze, on Monday submitted a request to the General Prosecutor’s Office to investigate possible crimes committed by Gharibashvili, namely abuse of power and accepting bribes.

On the same day, members of the UNM’s youth wing held a protest in front of the government chancellery in Tbilisi demanding Gharibashvili’s resignation.

Footage from the demonstration shows Igor Narmania, the youth wing’s secretary, being detained for attempting to spray paint the ground in front of the building.

‘Now, with this inscription, we must remind Irakli Gharibashvili that he is Russian’, said Narmania moments before he was dragged away by the police.

On Sunday, six civil society organisations called on the State Security Services to launch an investigation into Gharibashvili’s alleged misappropriation of state resources.

Gharibashvili has yet to comment on Lelo’s intent to impeach him.

‘A charter scandal’

In its investigation, Pirveli reported that Gharibashvili had travelled with his 18-year-old son, Nikoloz Gharibashvili, to Munich on a government plane. 

Nikoloz Gharibashvili is currently studying in America.

Once news broke of Gharibashvili’s visit on Thursday, the Georgian Department of Strategic Communication stated that the prime minister’s flights were not financed from the state budget.

‘The prime minister travelled to the USA on a passenger plane, on regular, commercial flights of various airlines, both during his official and private visits’, stated the agency, which confirmed that Gharibashvili had chartered the flight to ‘a European city’.

The department issued a follow-up statement after Pirveli’s report, accusing the opposition TV of spreading ‘disinformation’.

It explained that the plane Gharibashvili had taken to Munich was on the ‘balance sheet of the Special State Protection Service’ (SSPS)  and that he had personally paid for its use on that occasion.

The SSPS is a security agency tasked with protecting high-ranking officials in Georgia.

‘The SSPS has the right to receive income from governmental and budgetary structures, as well as from non-governmental, commercial, and private individuals. A similar commercial flight has been performed many times before’, concluded the statement.

Pirveli also reported that Gharibashvili had made use of SSPS officers to receive guests attending the birthday of his wife, Nunu Tamazashvili.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili (centre), Nunu Tamazashvili (right), and Nikoloz Gharibashvili (left). Photo: Irakli Gharibashvili/Facebook.

Gharibashvili has previously come under scrutiny for exorbitant spending and purchases beyond his means; in his 2022 financial declaration, Gharibashvili stated that his annual salary was worth about ₾45,000 ($17,200) and that he had received ₾150 thousand ($57,300) from his parents.

Pirveli reported in late 2021 that Georgia’s National Forestry Agency had transferred a lease over 5,958 square metres of publicly owned forests in Bakuriani to Gharibashvili’s wife.

[Read on OC Media: Georgian PM’s wife granted publicly owned forest]

In April 2020, several months after his return to politics as Defence Minister, RFE/RL reported that Gharibashvili had failed to declare his and his wife’s collection of luxury wristwatches, reportedly exceeding ₾500,000 ($160,000) in value.

Read in Armenian on CivilNet