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Illegally Sealed Up Petrol Station

21.11.2008
Nona Suvarian,Tbilisi

Zurab Monaselidze, a Georgian businessperson has had his chain of petrol station illegally sealed u by tax inspectors.  The actual reason for the action was interest of a large investment company which is protected by official structures in the land that his station was located.

Petrol station, located opposite the “Laguna Vere” (swimming pool in Tbilisi), was closed one year ago by the prosecutor’s office though all proper documents were in order.

The owner of the patrol station states that the prosecutor’s office decided to seal it up after Investment Company “Hyatt” became interested in the nearby property, including his business. 

Zurab Monaselidze: “In 2006 Giorgi Saginashvili, deputy head of Supervision Inspection of Tbilisi City Hall called us. He said investment company “Hyatt” was interested in the territory were my petrol station was located. The company runs a hotel business. Consequently, he was interested in the real estate and not in the actual station. Saginashvili told us the representative of the “Hyatt” would get in touch with us personally and discuss purchasing the station. I said I did not want to sell it; the only acceptable option for me, if they had offered me a large amount of money, and then I would agree to sell it to them.”

One year later, in August of 2007 Davit Sharabidze, representative of the company met Monaselidze. They discussed the selling price of the petrol station but could not reach agreement.

“They stated they did not need the petrol station which was more valuable than the property itself, and they were interested in the land. Consequently, they offered lower price. Aside from such an offer, they did not take into consideration that he would have to pay 25 percent of the sale price to the government as taxes. So, we did not agree. Davit Sharabidze warned us they had close people in higher instances and could influence my decision making abilities. We parted with these words and we had no connection with each other for two months.”

Monaselidze had given the petrol station to Ltd “Jemali 2007” under rent from November 14 2006 to March 14 of 2007. They had signed contract where all points were well summarized. In addition, Monaselidze had all proper documents confirming his ownership on the petrol station. Regardless, on March 14 investigation division of the Revenue Service Department within the Ministry of Finances sealed up the petrol station.

“The LTD was running the petrol station for four months with all proper documents and they were in order. After sealing it up, as the heads of the Ltd reported to me, criminal case was against Ltd Jemali 2007, and this investigation is current”.

“On March 27 Elguja Mchedlidze, the son of the director of the Ltd, called me and requested to give him the key to the station. He intended to withdraw some product. He took both diesel and petrol fuell. When I arrived at the petrol station only attendant and two operators met me there. They returned the key to me; took the cash machine and left the place. On March 28 Elguja Mchedildze called me again and said the Financial Police had demanded the key. Consequently, the Ministry of Finances sealed up the room and absolutely empty reservoirs for the second time. On April 1 “Jemali 2007” requested that I would agree to cancel our contract.

“Several months later I appealed to the Prosecutor General’s Office because I was not allowed to work at the station. They sent me to the Financial Police. I applied to the Public Defender for assistance. The Financial Police defined me the reason of sealing up as follows: “investigation is launched against the Ltd under the Article 192 Paragraph I and it was necessary to seal it up in order to protect the fuel reserved in it. “Jemali 2007” is blamed for not having a license to sell fuel products.”

The definition of the Ministry of Finances was fabricated and nothing more. Before sealing up the Ltd people removed the entire supply fuel from the reservoir, so nothing was to be wasted or needed to be protected.”

Although their explanation is groundless they do not bother to give more sensible explanation. One more important point is that other stations of the same Ltd were not sealed up, and they are still working. The ministry has not sealed up their main office as well.

We then contacted the chief investigator of the Tbilisi main department of the Ministry of Finances for his comments. Although he is in charge of investigating the case, he refused to comment. However he agreed to given written explanation that reached us only one month later and in doing so he breached the terms of releasing public information.

Our questions were quite simple and natural: Whether the station was examined to estimate whether material reserve was still on the place? Why was the petrol station sealed up for the second time, and whether a corresponding protocol was drawn up? If there is not material questioned at what stage the current investigation. Traditionally, we receive a reply to such kinds of requests but in this instance no follow-up information was provided.  

Nestan Londaridze, lawyer of the Human Rights Center claims that almost all questions were ignored by the Georgian Ministry of Finance.

“Only one question was answered that makes the case even more obscure to us.  The reply states that seal was removed based on the application of Jemal Mchedlidze, director of the Ltd “Jemali 2007”. Gela Baramashvili explained that examination was conducted based on Mchedlidze’s application and how the fuel was given to him based on that protocol. The petrol station was sealed up on the very same day. Consequently, many are left open to discussion and uncertain to any observer. More exactly, if Mchedlidze received the fuel based on the protocol, why the property of Monaselidze was then sealed up? The letter to the Public Defender demonstrates that station was sealed up because of protection of the fuel and other technical equipment at the station.

If Jemali 2007 was selling non-licensed fuel, it is evident that the Ltd sells unlicensed fuel at all the other petrol station that it operates.  Why not the other petrol stations were were sealed up as well, as then their office where all documents demonstrating their guilt could be preserved; why the ministry sealed up Monaselidze’s station in particular, and soon afterwards the owner was forced to sell it. All these circumstances together make us doubt the connections between these two facts.”

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