Otar Partskhaladze, a former Georgian prosecutor general who was accused of violence and involvement in extortion, has been included in a new list of individuals sanctioned by the US.
On Thursday, the US State Department announced that Partskhaladze, who held the post of Prosecutor General for a month and a half in 2013 and who is described as a ‘Georgian–Russian oligarch’, was sanctioned for ‘operating or having operated in the management consulting sector’ of Russia’s economy, and in relation to Russia’s ‘malign influence’ on Georgia.
The US Department of State and US Treasury imposed sanctions on 150 individuals and legal entities. US State Secretary Antony Blinken explained on 14 September that the sanctions targeted individuals and entities engaged in sanctions evasion, those ‘complicit in furthering Russia’s ability to wage its war against Ukraine’, and those contributing to Russia’s future energy production.
Blinken described Partskhaladze as a ‘Georgian-Russian oligarch whom the FSB has leveraged to influence Georgian society and politics for the benefit of Russia’.
Partskhaladze is mentioned in the sanctioned list in relation to Russian ‘Federal Security Service officer’ Aleksandr Onishenko.
‘FSB Officer [Onishchenko] likely assisted his associate [Partskhaladze] in obtaining a Russian passport and possibly Russian citizenship. [Partskhaladze] has fully taken on a Russian identity and routinely travels to Russia’, the statement read.
‘[Onishchenko] and the FSB have leveraged [Partskhaladze] to influence Georgian society and politics for the benefit of Russia. [Partskhaladze] has reportedly personally profited from his FSB connection’.
According to TV Pirveli, Partskhaladze received Russian citizenship in 2021.
‘Actively working on relations with Russia’
Following the announcement, both US and Georgian officials suggested that the move would have no impact on US-Georgia relations.
Matthew Miller, the US State Department press secretary, said on Thursday that Washington and Tbilisi’s relations would not be affected by the US’s sanctions on Partskhaladze, which marked the second time the US has sanctioned Georgian citizens.
‘Over the last 30 years, we have become strategic partners working together […] towards our shared version of Georgia as a fully integrated member of the Euro-Atlantic family, and no individual sanction determination that we make changes that vision of ours or that relationship’, said Miller.
Georgia’s Parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili said on Thursday that Otar Partskhaladze has no connection with Georgia’s state structures, as ‘for the last 10 years, he [has been] a private person’.
Georgia’s Finance Minister, Lasha Khutsishvili, on Friday similarly asserted that ‘no state can be responsible for this or that action carried out by a specific person’.
However, on Friday, Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) announced that it had begun investigating the US State Department’s allegations against Partskhaladze.
Khatia Dekanoidze, a representative of the Eurooptismists, a cross-party opposition group, stated on Friday that she had no expectations that Partskhaladze would face any punishment from the ruling Georgian Dream party, citing his ‘direct connection’ to the ruling party’s billionaire founder and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The Chair of Russia’s Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Committee, Leonid Kalashnikov, on Friday evening told the Georgian independent TV Formula that Partskhaladze had been involved in the recent resumption of flights between Russia and Georgia and cancellation of a visa requirement for Georgians visiting Russia. The visa regime was cancelled by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 10 May.
[Read more: Russia lifts travel restrictions for Georgians]
‘I know Partskhaladze, he is actively working on humanitarian, economic, and other relations with Russia. I personally invited him to my event when we were trying to [resume] direct flights with Russia and cancel the visa regime. He was actively involved in this process along with other Georgians’, said Kalashnikov.
Fights, scandal, and extortion
Partskhaladze became Georgia’s general prosecutor in November 2013 but resigned after 47 days.
Shortly prior to his resignation, it became known that Partskhaladze had been convicted of a crime in Germany in the 2000s. While the opposition United National Movement alleged that Partskhaladze had been convicted of theft, a few days before his resignation, Partskhaladze himself stated that he was convicted of resisting the police.
In 2018, Georgia’s Prosecutor’s Office charged Partskhaladze over a 2017 fight with then–Auditor General Lasha Tordia in a nightclub.
Tbilisi City Court granted Partskhaladze ₾5,000 ($1900) bail, as requested by the prosecution and in February 2021, the Court acquitted the former general prosecutor.
Partskhaladze was later also subject to criticism for his alleged role in the Omega tapes scandal, tapes suggesting that a number of officials had been involved in extorting money on behalf of ruling party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili.
In a 30 September 2018 interview with Rustavi 2, Zaza Okuashvili, whose Omega Group owned a tobacco company, a car dealership, and Iberia TV, accused Ivanishvili of attempting to extort money and cars from him. Okuashvili claimed Ivanishvili had ‘delegated’ the execution of the racketeering to Otar Partskhaladze.
Then-opposition-aligned channel Rustavi 2 and Okuashvili alleged that Partskhaladze kidnapped and beat up former Sports Minister Levan Kipiani, who they alleged was also involved in extorting money, over a disagreement during the extortion.
In September 2022, Ukraine added Partskhaladze to a list of 15 Georgians subjected to sanctions for their alleged ties to Russia and its war on Ukraine. The ‘War and Sanctions’ website states that Partskhaladze is ‘one of the participants in the oligarchic rule and seizure of power by Bidzina Ivanishvili’.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is often accused of maintaining rule over Georgia despite having formally left politics in 2021, announced in 2016 that his son, Bera Ivanishvili, was godfather to Partskhaladze’s grandchild.