Saakashvili blames corruption within political ally's company for mine deaths
Two employees of the coal mine in Tkibuli were arrested on January 26. Five days earlier, an explosion in the mine had killed a miner and injured four other workers. It was the fourth deadly incident in this mine in only 13 months. A total of ten miners have lost their lives. After the other incidents, no legal action against the owners of the mine was taken. These arrests followed a televised statement by president Mikheil Saakashvili, who had said that this most recent explosion would be investigated by "serious people [...] instead of those who are sitting in Tbilisi and taking money from the owners of the Tkibuli mine and therefore have no problems to write a lot of nonsense and lies." The president's statement implied that corruption was the reason why no action had been taken after the first incidents and the owners of the mine had not been held accountable. According to Saakashvili, the company's management initially tried to blame the accident on the killed miner after the most recent explosion, as it had done after other deadly incidents. Interestingly, the pit is run by the Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), a conglomerate that is also a major shareholder in the national pro-government television channel Rustavi 2. GIG is owned by Davit Bezhuashvili, a member of Parliament of Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement party. Moreover, he is also the brother of Gela Bezhuashvili, head of the Georgian foreign intelligence service. The direct owner of the Georgian Industrial Group which describes itself as the "largest holding company within the country" with about 3,000 employees, is an off-shore shell company, Chemexim International LTD, registered in the Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands. In his income and asset declaration, Davit Bezhuashvili declared that he is the owner of Chemexim International. However, he also declared that his ownership in the company did not earn him a single lari in profits in 2009, even though Chemexim International is the sole owner of GIG. Bezhuashvili also declared that he owned shares in a second company, Kemble Trading LTD, registered in Cyprus. Both Cyprus and the Marshall Islands are popular locations for the registration of shell companies, which are often used to disguise ownership and financial flows, to launder money and/or to save or evade taxes. In his statement, Saakashvili said that there was "evidence to suggest that the previous explosions in which several miners were killed was a result not of their negligence, but of criminal wrongdoing by the coal mine’s top management, which turned off ventilation system to save the money at the expense of the lives of employees." He said that the conclusions into the reasons of the explosions last year were fabricated by "the owners of the business" and expressed "regret that the criminal case [launched by the prosecutor’s office] has not been taken to its logical end yet". If those responsible for previous explosions were punished, Saakashvili added, the January 21 incident could have been avoided.