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Father and Son Arrested for following the Order of the President

Maka Malakmadze, Batumi

“Last year, I was observed  drinking vodka in the office of Patarkatsishvili and the fact that I was with him was reported to Levan Varshalomidze.”

On February 2, 2009 the Prosecutor’s Office of the Adjara Autonomous Republic launched a preliminary investigation against Ramin and Datuna Varshalomidzes, father and son. They were accused of swindling under the Criminal Code of Georgia. The preliminary investigation started only after the Commission on Recognizing the Ownership on Property within the Khelvachauri District Administration abolished the ownership right of the Varshalomidzes on the plot they had appropriated. the commission issued a resolution on December 17, 2008. “Abolition of the ownership certificate does not mean that the citizens have a committed criminal offence,” said Davit Japaridze, attorney for the accused.

Father and son Varshalomidzes are relatives of Levan Varshalomidze, chairman of the government of Adjara Autonomous Republic.

Initially Ramin Varshalomidze was arrested in January of 2009 and his son Datuna Varshalomidze was arrested in his house on April 17 2009. The attorney claims that the Batumi district prosecutor’s office reinforced the accusation based on the abolition of the ownership certificate that was issued by the commission itself.

Lawyer Davit Japaridze represents the Varshalomidzes at the court. The accused have appealed against the Commission on Recognizing the Ownership on Property within Khelvachauri Municipality Board. The administrative suit was brought to the Khelvachauri district prosecutor’s office on March 18; Prosecutor Temur Guramishvili from Batumi district Prosecutor’s Office drew up a bill of particulars against the Varshalomidzes on April 15, 2009.

According to the bill of particulars the preliminary investigation concluded that Ramin and Datuna Varshalomidzes committed the crime of swindling. The attorney claims the accusation is groundless.

“The accusation against the Varshalomidzes has no legal basis and is completely illegal. The abolition of the ownership certificate by the commission can not encourage anyone to claim that Varshalomidzes had illegally appropriated the plot. The abolition of the certificate is not recognized in the criminal law--it is an administrative offence. Also, while discussing the charge against the Varshalomidzes Prosecutor Temur Guramishvili should not have used the protocol of the Commission from Khelvachauri Municipality Board issued on December 17, 2008 as a basis for his decision because the protocol was not a final document and it can be appealed in three circumstances in accordance with the Administrative Code.

Davit Japaridze said: “These people have not committed any crime. The plot seized from them was assigned to Zurab Varshalomidze, who is a much closer relative of Levan Varshalomidzes then they are. According to my information the disagreement between the relatives started last year when Ramin Varshalomidze was observed in the office of Badri Patarkatsishvili (a businessman who was financially assisting the opposition parties in Georgia and who died last year) while drinking vodka and as my client told me Levan Varshalomidze was informed about this fact.”

Attorney Japaridze has appealed to four courts so far, first to a lower court, then to a higher court and so on.  He last appealed to the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia. These appeals against the decision of Prosecutor Temur Guramishvili have not been successful. Said Japaridze: “I sought to annul the decision of the 24-year-old Prosecutor Temur Guramishvili and to suspend the criminal prosecution against my clients. The prosecutor did not discuss my legal contentions against his conclusion. I brought suit in the Batumi district prosecutor’s office against his refusal. However, Avto Kaladze, prosecutor from Batumi district Prosecutor’s Office, assigned my suit to the same prosecutor for further discussion. Then I appealed against their replies to Lasha Esaiashvili, prosecutor from Adjara Regional Prosecutor’s Office, who again assigned my appeal to Guramishvili for argument. Finally, on April 2 I appealed to Mamuka Gvaramia, the chief prosecutor of Georgia. He has not replied yet.”

It must be pointed out that Commissions on Recognizing the Ownership on Property within Khalvachauri and Kobuleti Municipality Boards have abolished hundreds of ownership certificates. However, former owners were not prosecuted because of that. On April 16, the Adjara office of the Human Rights Center applied to the person responsible for issuing public information at the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia and requested information about the case. However the center has not yet received a reply..

The Varshalomidzes brought an administrative suit in the Khelvachauri district court against the decision of the commission. Lawyer Nana Beridze represents them in the court. She said: ‘The right on ownership is granted to Zurab Varshalomidze through blatant violation of the Administrative Code. More precisely, the procedure was violated because the citizens were not invited to the hearing. My clients were not allowed to express their opinions and provide corresponding evidence to the court.”

The attorney was of the opinion that the protocol of the commission was vague and invalid. Lawyer Beridze said:  “The protocol does not provide information concerning how the commission concluded that the plot was not cultivated, who was enquired about the fact and if there is any person who had some complaints regarding the plot. The Varshalomidzes registered the plot that was appropriated by them in accordance to the law. They provided supporting evidence to the commission in accordance with the law.”  The Varshalomidzes request to make changes in protocol N 144 of the Commission for Recognizing the Ownership on the Property issued on December 17, 2008.”

Ramin Varshalomidze had registered the plots with and an area of 642 and 3 451 sq. meters. Datuna Varshalomidze owned the plot with the area of 3 000 sq. meter. The property was registered to the father in January of 2008, and the son had the plot legally registered to him in June of 2008. Their former properties were assigned to Jana Zichenko and Lemi 1 Ltd.

“We grew corn and other cereals there. It was our plot. According to the president’s resolution we applied to the commission for having the land registered. After that we it was our property and we sold it,” said Mzia Beridze,wife of Ramin Varshalomidze,.

The Human Rights Center got in touch with the Prosecutor Temur Guramishvili but he refused to comment on the matter.

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