GYLA and TI Georgia emphasize necessity to investigate the case of Fund Constanta
According to reports and analysis made by NGOs and the Ombudsman, the right to property has for years been among the most abused human rights in Georgia. The current authorities do not make this contentious. However, its policies to address the said problem are ineffective. Moreover, with the exception of several cases, the government has not effectively acted on violations of property rights. In the absolute majority of cases known to us, either an investigation has not been launched or it is ineffective. It seems that creating an effective mechanism to act upon such type of cases is not on the agenda. The government is also not safeguarding the restoration of the rights of individuals who had been forced to concede their property as a gift to the state. Law enforcement and administrative agencies are not trying to review their illegal decisions despite the fact that they have the authority to do so under law.
In a group of such cases, the chance remains that the rights can be restored through judicial means. It is regrettable that, in cases known to us, state agencies, which are respondents in such disputes, try to justify their alleged illegal decisions made years ago. One of such cases is the case of Fund Constanta.
According to the information provided to us by the representatives of the Fund, a summary of the case is as follows: on 18 March 2011, Levan Lebanidze, executive director of Fund Constanta, was detained and brought to the building of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. A meeting was held with the Prosecutor’s Office staff, G. G. and G. K. Prosecutors filed charges against him alleging abuse of his executive authority against the legal interests of Fund Constanta, causing substantial damage. The Prosecutor’s Office asked for 12,000,000 GEL bail under the plea bargain for his release from detention. Otherwise, it threatened to arrest all members of Fund Constanta’s board of directors and to launch dark PR against the Fund on several TV channels.
After L. Lebanidze and other members of the board of directors of the Fund announced that they could not pay the cited amount of money, the prosecutor proposed the following scheme of payment: to pledge 80% of shares in the Fund on the same day in the bank (owners being Fund Constanta and natural persons); L. Lebanidze would receive the plea bargain; and the loaned money would be transferred to the state budget for bail. As a result of coercion and threats made, the same night, L. Lebanidze and his partners were forced to agree with the terms of the Prosecutor’s Office. The next day, on 19 March, the bail requested by the prosecutor in the amount of 12,000,200 GEL was reduced by the court by 200 GEL and obliged Levan Lebanidze to pay 12,000,000 GEL (twelve million). Before the plea agreement, the said amount of funds had already been transferred to the state budget, demonstrating the court trial was a mere formality.
Due to the circumstances of the case, there is a reasonable suspicion that the prosecutors used illegal acts towards L. Lebanidze and Fund Constanta in 2011. These were explained in detail in the complaints filed by Fund Constanta in 2013-2014. However, it is evident that the investigation in this case is not carried out in an effective manner.
Furthermore, Fund Constanta, having been assured of the ineffectiveness in the investigation, filed a civil lawsuit against the Prosecutor’s Office. The response from the Prosecutor’s Office to the lawsuit (e.g. the response points out that the coercion cannot be proved by evidence and the statute of limitations apply to the case, preventing the court from entertaining the case etc.) makes it clear that instead of conducting an objective and effective investigation, the Prosecutor’s Office is effectively trying to defend its illegal acts made 3 years ago.
Evidently, this type of approach from the state not only will not restore the violated rights, but also will encourage impunity and jeopardize the rule of law in the country.
We encourage all law enforcement and administrative agencies to act upon such type of violations in their respective capacities. Also, the government of Georgia must ensure developing policies for the restoration of rights of individuals whose property rights have been illegally violated.
Georgian Young Lawyers Association
Transparency International Georgia