These days, it may sometimes seem that few among Georgia’s former ruling United National Movement have escaped the scrutiny of the country’s eager-beaver prosecutors. But there’s always someone new.
This time, it’s 42-year-old Davit Bakradze, a former foreign minister and parliamentary speaker under ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, and now the head of the United National Movement’s opposition faction in parliament.
On August 20, an unknown individual purporting to be Bakradze distributed to news outlets via Facebook alleged correspondence between the British retail bank chain HSBC and the ex-parliamentary speaker and his wife about a former account, apparently held in their names, that had contained 287,000 pounds (just over $476,000 at 2014 rates).
While such tip-offs might not seem, at first glance, watertight sources of information, the prosecutor’s office rolled up their sleeves and started — yep, you guessed it — a criminal investigation.
Bakradze had not named such a bank account in any of his declarations about his financial assets since the account’s opening in 2009, prosecutors claimed. Nor did its balance correspond with the official income of the ex-parliamentary speaker “and his family members,” they added in a statement.
“[T]he information reported via mass media contains elements of an offence under the Criminal Code,” they concluded.
Responding to the allegations on his own Facebook page, the real Bakradze attributed the existence of the account to a request from his father-in-law to deposit “in a reliable bank” money he had received from the 2002 sale of a building in Tbilisi to the Swiss embassy. Bakradze did not address why he had not included the account in his annual financial declarations.
In comments to Ekho Kavkaza, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Georgia’s analyst Levan Natroshvili noted that Georgian political figures neglecting to tell all about what they own is nothing new. But no criminal investigation has been launched into eight members of parliament who allegedly have failed to do the same, he charged.
That could raise suspicions about the real motivations for investigating Bakradze, he added.
Such suspicions would be familiar for the Georgian government. In the past, it has argued that it is simply investigating violations of the law and does not let politics influence its judgement.
But the Bakradze case does not just touch on alleged financial funny-business. In his statement, the ex-parliamentary speaker and onetime presidential candidate objected strongly to the unauthorized public disclosure of private information — a trend that long has troubled Georgian rights-watchers.
The government has denied that it plays the peeping Tom. It has not addressed scoop-ups of written materials, but previously has argued that it only taps electronic communications via a court-order and for a criminal investigation.
Prosecutors have said that they will look into “the authenticity” of the information about Bakradze’s bank accounts distributed on Facebook.