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Head of Georgian Public Registry resigns over sexual harassment allegations

28 March 2018
Papuna Ugrekhelidze (/ipress.ge)

Papuna Ugrekhelidze, the Chair of Georgia’s Public Registry, has resigned over sexual harassment allegations from former employees. He dismissed the accusations as revenge for firing the husband of one of his accusers, and has vowed to sue her.

Ugrekhelidze has been accused of harassing at least two former or current employees of the agency.

One of his accusers, who chose not to disclose her name, told TV Imedi on Saturday that she was forced to quit her job at the Public Registry in 2016 in order to avoid Ugrekhelidze. Ugrekhelidze reportedly began harassing her that year, when she was working under him.

Ugrekhelidze responded by denying the accusations and naming his accuser as Eka Meskhidze, former head of the International Relations Department at the Registry, who confirmed this on Tuesday.

Ugrekhelidze claimed the allegations were revenge for firing her husband, and said he had resigned in order to protect his ‘honour and dignity’. He added that he has been divorced since 2009 and ‘there has never been a restraining order issued against me’.

Meskhidze’s husband, Zurab Kipiani, was ‘dismissed on the basis of disciplinary sanctions’, according to Ugrekhelidze. According to a document he provided, on 13 July 2016, Kipiani showed up to work drunk and tried to enter the Registry with a dog.

According to Ugrekhelidze, Meskhidze complained to the Public Defender on 29 August, a week after her husband was fired.

‘Meskhidze was blackmailing me for firing her husband, and there is a witness, with the help of whom she asked me not to fire her husband Zurab Kipshidze, otherwise she would take a complaint to the Public Defender’, Ugrekhelidze wrote.

Meskhidze has called Ugrekhelidze’s claims ‘absurd.

The Public Defender’s Office has confirmed Meskhidze’s story, but their report into the case from last May remains confidential. Liberali, who have seen the report, wrote that Ugrekhelidze called her ‘a squirrel’, sent her heart emojis, and demanded the same from her.

Citing the report, Liberali says he became threatening: ‘Don’t make trouble and do as I say, you haven’t gotten into shit for this long, and you won’t get into shit now either, you must understand my attitude. You’re a big girl, and you should not overstep your boundaries! I will lay a hand on you, and when you are really beaten, then you will understand. You monkey!’

According to Meskhidze, the agency did not apologise after the Public Defender’s conclusion, and the pressure from Ugrekhelidze continued. ‘He threatened to create problems at my new job as well’, she told Imedi.

Rustavi 2 reported later on Saturday that another woman was accusing Ugrekhelidze of sexual harassment. Local rights group the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, who are representing the woman, said this also occurred while she was an employee at the Public Registry.

Ugrekhelidze had served as the Public Registry’s chair since 2013.

The resignation comes in the wake of a widely reported harassment scandal at a prominent Georgian non-governmental organisation. Zviad Devdariani, the head of the Civil Development Agency (CiDA) and an outspoken supporter of women’s rights, was forced to resign after at least ten women accused him of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

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