Who Runs Georgia – Irakli Garibashvili, Prime Minister with an Informal Master
Irakli Garibashvili entered politics in 2012, along with the Georgian Dream party. In his first year of public service, he was the Minister of Internal Affairs. In 2013, he replaced Bidzina Ivanishvili as the Prime Minister. At the end of 2015, after “consulting” with Ivanishvili, who had by that time formally left politics, and amid allegations of nepotism and corruption, Garibashvili resigned. After a 4 year hiatus, during which time Garibashvili worked for a Chinese company connected to Ivanishvili, the latter appointed him as the Defense Minister (2019). In February 2021, Garibashvili became the Prime Minister for the second time.
Link with Bidzina Ivanishvili
Garibashvili has close ties with Bidzina Ivanishvili. Prior to entering politics, Gharibashvili’s entire professional career since 2004 had been working for various companies belonging to Ivanishvili, eventually rising to head the Cartu Foundation and serving as a member of the Cartu Bank Supervisory Board (both organizations owned by Ivanishvhili via beneficial ownership). In Ivanishvili's own words, Garibashvili was his official representative and “secretary”. According to media reports, Garibashvili also worked as the (music) producer of Bidzina Ivanishvili's rapper son Bera.
Two troubling incidents based on leaked secret recordings suggest the level of influence Ivanishvili holds over PM Garibashvili:
Connection with a Russian oligarch – According to secret recordings released after Russia attacked Ukraine, Ivanishvili, who had made his second formal exit from politics by that time, was allegedly offered a business deal by a sanctioned Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Ivanishvili had arranged a meeting between Yevtushenkov’s representative and Prime Minister Garibashvili. While Yevtushenkov himself confirmed the meeting, Garibashvili denied having such a meeting. No investigation was carried out despite civil society calls to do so.
Taking orders from the boss’s son – On 6 March 2021, a government-critical media organization TV Pirveli aired an audio recording in which Bera Ivanishvili was allegedly instructing Irakli Garibashvili to send police officers to intimidate teenagers who had criticized Bera on social media. Neither Bera Ivanishvili nor Irakli Garibashvili explicitly denied the authenticity of the recording. However, the investigation was only launched into illegal wiretapping, claiming it was doctored, and not the problematic substance of the recorded conversation.
During his 4 year hiatus from public service in 2015-2019, Garibashvili worked for a company linked to Ivanishvili. Garibashvili held a high-income position at Euro-Asian Management Group LLC, the ultimate beneficial owners of which are Bidzina Ivanishvili and Ivane Chkhartishvili, a businessman from Ivanishvili’s close circle and a former Minister of Economy during the Shevardnadze government.
Euro-Asian Management Group LLC manages 75% of shares in the Poti Free Industrial Zone. The shares are owned by a Chinese company CEFC (Euro-Asian) LLC, which was already involved in international corruption scandals by the time Garibashvili joined Euro-Asian Management Group LLC. Irakli Garibashvili’s links to these companies are problematic, since it is Ivanishvili’s business interests that are seen as a possible reason for the Georgian government’s decision to suspend the construction of a competing project of strategic importance to the country – Anaklia Deep Sea Port.
Irakli Garibashvili’s links with Bidzina Ivanishvili are troubling. The prime minister must be accountable to democratic institutions and citizens, their decisions must be in the best interest of the country and must not raise questions about oligarchic influence. In the case of Irakli Garibashvili, such questions are aplenty.
After returning as Defense Minister in 2019, Gharibashvili famously assessed the process of frequent changing of prime ministers as follows: “Actually, [political] power, the mandate belonged, belongs to Mr. Ivanishvili. Everyone forgets this. And by ‘everyone’ I mean everyone”.
Allegations of Corruption
Irakli Garibasvhili has faced numerous allegations of corruption and other violations over the past 10 years, none of which have been properly investigated, nor has Garibashvili assumed political responsibility. Some of the more well substantiated allegations include:
Nepotism and influence peddling – After becoming the Minister of Internal Affairs in 2012, Irakli Garibashvili appointed relatives of his wife to high government positions and allegedly used his influence to help their companies receive government contracts, subsidies and other privileges. In a 2015 public interview, Bidzina Ivanishvili admitted having told Garibashvili that his relatives would become a problem.
Abuse of official power / misappropriation of state property – On 22 January 2022, a government-critical media organization TV Pirveli aired a journalist investigation about alleged abuse of official power by Irakli Garibashvili to ensure that around six thousand square meters of forest adjacent to his house in a winter resort town of Bakuriani was leased to his wife Nunu Tamazashvili, for 49 years. Two years earlier, on 18 February 2020, a journalist investigation aired on another government-critical media organization Mtavari Arkhi, which raised questions about the construction permit issued to Garibashvili’s wife for the construction of a house within a recreational zone in Bakuriani.
Unexplained wealth – According to a journalist investigation published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Georgian Service on 2 April 2020, Irakli Garibashvili and his wife own an undeclared collection of eight luxury wristwatches with the total value of at least GEL 550,000 (app. USD 187,000), more than the total income declared by Garibashvili in his asset declarations since 2012.
The complete lack of response to allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Garibashvili from anti-corruption authorities clearly demonstrates that Georgia does not have any real mechanisms for fighting high-level corruption; entities responsible for investigating corruption (Office of the General Prosecutor and the State Security Service) continue to ignore dozens of high-profile instances of alleged corruption that have been identified by investigative journalists and civil society in the past few years.
Human Rights Violations
Irakli Garibashvili’s tenure has been characterized by the fueling of polarization and rise in violence. Examples include:
- Attacks on opposition political parties (both on offices and individuals)
- Vilification of civil society and targeting of critical media organizations
- Implementation of discriminatory policy against religious and ethnic minorities
- Emergence, strengthening, and open support of extreme-right, pro-Russian groups
- Assaults on LGBT activists (on 17 May 2013) and journalists (on 5 July 2021)
- Release of secret recordings featuring private lives of political opponents
One of the first things Garibashvili did after his comeback as the Prime Minister was the storming of the office of the largest opposition political party United National Movement to arrest its chairperson. Several months later, commenting on the arrest of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, he stated that Saakshvili “better behave, or face additional charges”, thereby confirming the prosecution being fully under ruling party control and used against political opponents.
It was during Irakli Garibashvili’s tenure when two of Georgia’s worst human rights failures took place:
On May 17, 2013, Garibashvili’s Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to protect a small demonstration of LGBT activists from violent groups. In December 2021, ECHR ruled against Georgia in the case of May 17, ordered Georgia to pay EUR 193,500 to victims, and stated that violence against activists occurred with the authorities’ connivance.
On July 5, 2021, PM Garibashvili failed to prevent mass violence, which resulted in 53 journalists being injured, one of whom died a few days later; in fact, Garibashvili’s public statements had an encouraging effect on this violence. No criminal prosecution has been conducted against any of the organizers and leaders of the mass violence of 5 July to this day.
Who Runs Georgia is a new series of publications aimed at highlighting the allegations of corruption against the country’s ruling elite.