Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has come under fire after the government leased almost 6,000 square metres of publicly owned forest in the resort town of Bakuriani to his wife.
On 28 December, upon the request by the National Forestry Agency, Georgia’s National Agency of Public Registry transferred 5,958 square metres on lease to Nunu Tamazashvili, Gharibashvili’s wife.
The land is a part of the State Forest Fund located in the lucrative Bakuriani Resort in the central Georgian municipality of Borjomi.
The transfer was originally reported by TV channel Pirveli on Nodar Meladze’s Saturday show, which alleged that it was a ‘New Year’s present for Gharibashvili’s wife’.
Pirveli reported that the land was directly adjacent to a house being built by the family. They said the site had previously been entirely fenced off except for the side connecting the new house with the forest, suggesting it was known in advance that the land would be granted to them.
The land has been leased to Tamazashvili for 49 years, and she will pay ₾6,256 ($2,000) annually for it. According to the terms of the lease, Tamazashvili will be allowed to set up a ‘temporary gazebo’ for ‘sports and recreational purposes’.
‘Resort, recreational, sport, and other cultural-recreational purposes’ are among several criteria under which protected forests under the Georgian Forest Fund are allowed to be leased to third parties.
On 23 January, the National Forestry Agency issued a statement on Facebook insisting that an auction for the land announced in December was open to everyone and that the lease included a list of obligations for lease-holders.
The Agency added that since 2021, they had leased 256 square kilometres from the State Forest Fund.
There have been previous accusations against Gharibashvili and his family of misusing their power.
Gharibashvili previously served as prime minister for two years between 2013 and 2015, before abruptly resigning from his post and politics in late 2015. He was reappointed into the premiership again in February 2021.
While he did not explain his departure from politics, it became apparent that his mentor, ex-Prime Minister and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, was discontent with some of Gharibashvili’s relatives, hinting at possible corruption.
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.
According to a November 2021 press release by the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), the Human Rights Centre, and the Green Movement of Georgia, the Georgian Forest Fund has lost 500 square kilometres of forest over the last five years.
[Read more on OC Media: Watchdogs: Georgian Forest Fund lost 500 square kilometers in 5 years]