The “Tractors Case” raises questions - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

The “Tractors Case” raises questions

22 July, 2013

The arrest of eight members of Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture has raised a number of serious questions. According to our legal analysis, the prosecutors’ charges are unsubstantiated and, according to one of the accused, a witness relied on by the prosecution says he was pressurised into giving evidence again the then Minister of Agriculture, David Kirvalidze.  

According to an order of the Georgian Government, the Agricultural Projects Management Agency should initiate a project to support the spring planting activities of farmers who own small plots of lands. As a consequence, the Minister of Agriculture set up a working group to specify the agricultural equipment that needed to be purchased. In December 2012, this working group determined the criteria for the equipment to be purchased. On 24 December 2012 and in January 2013, the Georgian Government instructed the Ministry of Agriculture, through two orders, to purchase specific pieces of equipment. So came about the creation of the commission for purchasing farming technologies (the commission). The tractors were purchased by Mekanizatori Ltd, a company wholly owned by the non-profit organization Agricultural Project’s Management Agency. Mekanizatori Ltd was established in 2009 and it deals mainly in purchasing and selling agricultural equipment, providing services to farmers using this equipment, and implementing modern technology in the production of agricultural goods.

The commission has been functioning since December 2012 and it published a tender, according to the standards and specifications set by the working group, for the procurement of tractors. Out of the participants of the tender, one American company (New Holland) and two European companies (Claas and Zetor) were chosen.

On 1 May 2013, the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Anti-Corruption Agency arrested eight people: the general director of Mekanizatori Ltd, Mr. Vaja Nakhutsrishvili, deputy ministers Mamuka Ivaniadze and Besik Tetvadze, the head of the Ministry of the Agriculture’s Unit of Technologies, Omar Tedoradze, and four doctors of technical sciences: Otar Karchava, Zaza Makharoblidze, Teo Urushadze and Givi Kaikhosroshvili. They are accused of mishandling finances, falsifying documents, and putting pressure on experts. The investigation is still in progress.  7 people those arrested were sentenced to 2 months pre-trial detention by the court.  The dean of the natural sciences faculty of Agricultural University of Georgia, Teo Urushadze,  along with the deputies of the Mekanizatori Ltd’s director, Mamuka Ivaniadze and Besik Tetvadze, were subsequently released on bail.

According to the prosecutor, Mamuka Ivanidze give incriminating evidence against the arrested individuals. His preventive measures were subsequently replaced by a bail of GEL 10, 000 and he was released on 2 July.

At a press-conference held by the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Mamuka Ivaniadze stated that Prosecutor Giorgi Davitashvili had pressurised him into giving this evidence.  It was on the basis of this evidence that the head of the working group, Konstantine Kutsaidze, had been arrested. After the arrest Ivaniadze refused to accept his attorney, Soso Baratashvili, and instead demanded a State Attorney. Ivaniadze subsequently stated publicly that he chose a different, state attorney because of the pressures he had been subjected to by the Prosecutor while he was in jail. Ivaniadze also said that he was being forced to testify against the previous minister of the Ministry of Agriculture, David Kirvalidze.

Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) believes that this so called “Tractors Case” raises a number of questions that demand answers. According to case materials analysed by our lawyers, we consider the prosecution’s accusations to be unfounded: the Prosecutor has shown no evidence that members of the Specifications Committee (the working group establishing the criteria for purchasing tractors) had any illegitimate interests. This, according to Georgian legislation, is an essential component for establishing criminal liability in this case. Nor do we find that there is any basis for the Prosecution’s allegation that the criteria set by the Working Group was unnecessarily high and that cheaper tractors could have been purchased to cultivate the land. We also believe that the financial damages, which the Prosecutor alleges the State has suffered, have not been calculated properly and it is unclear what method has been used to calculate these. Moreover, the most crucial witness in the prosecution’s case has publicly stated that he was pressurised into making these statements by the prosecutor, Giorgi Davitashvili and that he does not agree with his earlier testimony.  In addition, the accused's defense lawyers told representatives of TI Georgia that the Prosecutor seeks to rely upon an expert witness who has assessed the feasibility of the Working Group's decisions regarding the purchase of tractors, however this expert’s report contained a number of serious inaccuracies and did not comply with the criminal procedure rules mandated for this examination.

TI Georgia is also concerned that the prosecutor Giorgi Davitashvili, lodged a motion at court on 13 June 2013, seeking to postpone for 60 days a hearing that had been set for 20 June. The reasons he gave for this postponement were that more time was required by the Prosecutor's office to gather and study evidence. Yet the majority of the investigative measures listed in the Prosecutor's motion are so essential that it would have been reasonable to have conducted these measures prior charging the accused.

On 12 July 2013, the head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee made a statement concerning the large number of complaints that had been submitted to the Prosecution Office against Davitashvili, the Prosecutor responsible for investigating this case.

Taking the facts of the case into consideration, TI Georgia considers it essential that all the Law Enforcement Bodies involved in this case investigation act responsibly and fairly. The public should be kept informed of this investigation and all developments in this case.  It is important to determine whether this is a case concerning appropriate and effective anti-corruption measures by the state or if this is an arbitrary investigation against an elected official.. A prosecutor should not independently decide to exert pressure on an accused in order to gain incriminating testimony against a current minister. It is crucial that this case is investigated impartially and without unnecessary delay. Only those who have breached the law should be brought to justice.