Defence Ministry calls to declassify details of controversial procurement

Diplomats from NATO states getting introduced to the information about the arrested Defence Ministry officials., 30 Oct 2014 - 16:26, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia’s Ministry of Defence (MoD ) has responded to the arrest of four high officials for allegedly misspending 4.1 million GEL of state money and giving an unfair pecuniary advantage to a private company through a state tender.

The MOD’s Public Affairs Department released a special statement, noting the Defence Ministry was transparent in its procurement processes.

The statement read the Ministry was also ready to declassify information about this procurement to help the investigation.

"This particular procurement is regarded as classified. Considering a high interest from the public, the MoD puts forward an initiative to lift the status of classified information on the above-said procurement to help the investigation process go on in a transparent way,” the statement said.

The MoD’s statement also claimed the Ministry had reduced the number of secret procurements to open ones by 58 percent in two years.

"Compared to past years, the percentage of secret procurements ongoing in the MoD has been reduced to a minimum and amounts to 16 percent of common procurements this year. It is notable that 74 percent of state purchases carried out in the MoD in 2012 were secret.”

"A number of measures have been taken within the MoD aimed at making [the] procurement system maximally transparent. Representatives of non-governmental organisations attended the sessions of tender commissions in the capacity of observers,” read the statement.

The MoD noted its reforms towards making the system more transparent had been positively assessed by the international community.

"The MoD has joined the NATO Building Integrity (BI) initiative too. In 2013 North-Atlantic Council experts positively assessed the anti-corruption reforms carried out in the Ministry and offered the Georgian side [the chance] to share its successful reform experience with NATO partner states,” the MoD noted.

"The MoD is interested in thoroughly investigating the case and expresses full readiness to continue intensive cooperation with all the interested parties.”

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia claimed the four men and another ex-Ministry official arranged a sham tender in 2013 to lay a fiber optic cable and procure networking equipment.

The Office claimed the men violated the Georgian tender laws when they "gave an advantage” to Silknet, one of the country’s largest telecommunications operators, as the Ministry signed a 6.7 million GEL contract when the services were worth 2.6 million GEL.

Meanwhile, Ambassadors and military attaches of NATO member states expressed interest in this issue when meeting Georgia’s Deputy Defence Minister Mikheil Darchiashvili at the country’s Ministry of Defence today.

Darchiashvili informed the envoys of the case and noted the MoD called for declassification of the materials and would cooperate fully to ensure a fair, transparent investigation took place.

United States Ambassador Richard Norland expressed full support towards Georgia’s Defence Minister Irakli Alasania and wider MoD team.

"I know that a number of questions were raised by the investigation. At the same time I emphasize that the United States has full confidence in Georgia, as a partner in the defence and military sector, and within the framework of NATO,” he said.

"The United States fully trusts Irakli Alasania and the Defence Ministry team. We believe that the investigation will be conducted and [the Ministry] will cooperate with it. We welcome such investigation, but as always, urge the Georgian Government to conduct the process in accordance with the rule of law and the highest standards,” he said.

The five men accused of misspending 4.1 million GEL of state funds are currently being held at Tbilisi City Court. As the information is still classified, no details of the case can be published at this stage.

If found guilty, the alleged offenders could face a prison sentence from seven to 11 years.

Georgia’s Defence Minister Alasania is currently on an official visit to Germany.