Georgia is ranked number 41 alongside Spain and Latvia, writes James Wilson.
This is according to the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 published last month, – a slight improvement in the country’s ranking compared with 2017. The biggest improvements in tackling corruption were made by former President Mikhail Saakashvili, whose reforms helped to largely eliminate low level corruption.
But the country now faces democratic backsliding, according to Transparency International, making it vulnerable to high-level corruption and a country to be monitored carefully moving forward. This downturn they say is due to a lack of accountability of law enforcement, corruption and political interference in the judiciary.
Despite an urgent need to investigate cases of corruption and misconduct in the government, Georgia has failed to establish independent agencies to take on this mandate. TI says that progress in anti-corruption may stall and reverse if the Georgian government does not take immediate steps to ensure the independence of institutions, including the judiciary.
The judicial system of Georgia has undergone many reforms and changes since 2012, all of which were aimed at making it better. According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index of 2017-2018, Georgia is amongst the best of 22 countries in Europe and holds first place in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in terms of the effectiveness of the courts.
The 2019 Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation (Washington, DC) ranks Georgia’s economic freedom as 16th most free in the world, and its overall score is above the regional and the world average. However, the Index also notes that, despite the fact that the Constitution and the laws guarantee judicial independence, political pressure threatens impartiality. Additionally, high-level corruption by public officials still remains a problem.
Notwithstanding the positive valuations of international organisations, there is still evidence of corruption and biased proceedings within the judicial system of Georgia.
One such case that is currently under scrutiny concerns the Glushkov brothers, whom the Russian Federation are seeking to extradite for a criminal investigation into alleged fraud concerning the reconstruction of a bus station in the Balakhna Region. Both brothers were detained in Georgia at the beginning of August 2018. They had sought political asylum claiming persecution by the legislative authorities of the Russian Federation.
The Glushkov brothers claim that for 6 months, while they were in Georgia, representatives of the Georgian Prosecutor’s office tried to negotiate with them an offer of political asylum in return for payment of US$ 300 000. The Glushkovs say that they declined to pay the officials, whereupon they were arrested, and the case took on an unexpected turn. It is alleged that the officials then demanded money to release the Glushkovs from Georgian prison.
In a sting operation, an employee of the State Security Service, Otar Gabunia, and a lawyer, Irakli Gaprindashvili were both arrested when Aleksandr Glushkov’s wife gave them $10 000 as part of the amount demanded by the government officials to help release the Glushkov brothers from prison. They have been detained ever since. Such action, if it is true, raises serious concerns about the Georgian judicial system, as it is in violation both of the Law of Georgia “On international protection” and of the provisions for the protection of their human rights, as set out in Article 5 part 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Georgian media sources are rife with innuendo and unconfirmed rumour about alleged bribery and corruption, involving high ranking officials of the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office in the extortion of money from Russian citizens.
The fact of the matter is that despite numerous appeals by their lawyers, the detention of the Glushkov brothers has already been extended three times, with Georgian Government officials arguing that they are “about to start an extradition process”.
But extending the duration of detention up to the maximum period possible (9 months) violates the law of Georgia “On international protection”, according to which it is forbidden to detain asylum seekers with the aim of further extradition.
Under Georgian law, the period of imprisonment for persons awaiting a decision on extradition may be extended twice for no more than three months. In March, they should be released if the Georgian court by that time does not decide on their extradition.
The authorities of Georgia received the request for international protection from the Glushkovs on 10 August 2018. Their continued detention violates their rights, as stipulated by Article 5 part 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, according to which everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.
Whilst in no way wishing to undermine or belittle the successful achievements of Georgia in tackling low level corruption, it is important that we support the efforts of the Government to raise the bar still further and eliminate corruption from the courts and the judiciary.
James Wilson is the Editor of EU Political Report