The Georgian National Forestry Agency has leased 125,000 square metres of forested land to a company allegedly owned by the billionaire founder of Georgia’s ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
On 5 November, the National Forestry Agency announced that Agro Cartu had won a 49-year lease for three plots of land near the village of Chorvila, in Imereti — Bidzina Ivanishvili’s hometown.
With a winning bid of an annual rent of ₾32,877 ($12,000), ₾0.26 ($0.09) per square metre, the company will be obliged to set up animal shelters and breeding grounds for local birds. According to the auction records, Agro Cartu was the only company to bid on the lands.
On Monday, TV Pirveli claimed that Agro Cartu was fully owned by Ivanishvili’s wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze. and that the company already owns a breeding farm for wild birds adjacent to its recently acquired plots of land.
However, according to a 2021 Transparency International report on offshore companies in Georgia, Agro Cartu is owned by Krista Investments Limited — one of 12 companies opened by Ivanishvili between 1998 and 2016 in the British Virgin Islands, according to the ICIJ’s Pandora Papers.
The lease of lands and hunting licenses in Georgian forests by national agencies has previously proved controversial; in January 2022, Pirveli reported the transfer of 5,958 square metres of forested lands in the lucrative Bakuriani resort to Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili’s wife, Nunu Tamazashvili.
In April, the National Environment Agency auctioned off a hunting license for over 1,000 square kilometres of land in the forests of Racha to a limited liability company, who, according to the agency, was the sole bidder in the auction.
The Racha auction was met with criticism by local residents, who only found out about the deal after it had been closed.
[Read on OC Media: Opinion | Local voices were ignored in the auctioning of Racha's forests]