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Information and Comments by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia on the Police Operation in Mestia of 7 July 2010

In 2010, Canadian investor William James Simpson purchased a land area in the town of Mestia from Giorgi Svanidze, along with a ruined building of the former tourist complex “Ushba,” where he planned to construct a hotel. The land purchase agreement was legal and was registered in the Georgian National Agency of Public Registry (Svanidze had been an owner of this land for several years). William Simpson’s official, notarially certified representative in Georgia was David Kukhilava, resident of the town of Jvari.

According to David Kukhilava’s testimony, he arrived in Mestia on 30 June and on 1 July he was approached by six local residents, including Shota Japaridze, Tariel Japaridze, David Japaridze and Neli Naveriani, who told him that the land area, where the hotel was to be constructed once belonged to their ancestors and, according to local traditions, the hotel could not be built without their consent. In exchange for their consent, they demanded 220 000 GEL from the businessman (the land area comprises 22 000 sq. meters). Otherwise, they threatened to “shed blood.” A friend of David Kukhilava was present at this meeting as well.
Kukhilava told them that he could not pay the demanded sum of money all together, but agreed to give them this money in parts. At first, he promised to pay 70 000 GEL.

On 2 July 2010, David Kukhilava informed the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Main Division of the MIA of Georgia that residents of the town of Mestia Shota Japaridze, Tariel Japaridze, David Japaridze and Neli Naveriani were extorting 220 000 GEL from him. The Police started an investigation into this criminal offense (case no. 083100054), punishable by Georgian Criminal Code’s Article 181, 2nd part, A and G clauses.

On 7 July 2010, after conducting a number of criminal investigation steps, the Police carried out an operation in Mestia and arrested David Japaridze – Head of Mestia’s Municipal Office for Sport, Culture, Tourism and Youth Affairs, Tariel Japaridze – Chief engineer of “EnergoPro Georgia” Mestia branch, Neli Naveriani – Member of Mestia Sakrebulo and Shota Japaridze – unemployed.

During the police operation, some locals resisted the police and tried to free the detained suspects. As a result, several police officers and a cameraman who was shooting the operation were injured.

The MIA possesses clear evidence on this extortion case. Namely, testimony of David Kukhilava, videotape depicting the transfer of money, intercepts of telephone calls, marked money and testimonies of witnesses.
Comments by Shota Utiashvili, Head of the Department of Information and Analysis:
I am surprised at the statements made by several local and international nongovernmental organizations on 10 July regarding the police operation conducted in Mestia on 7 July. 

I would like to remind you that we are talking about legal charges according to which local authorities and their accomplices threatened a Canadian businessman, who had bought land in Mestia district, to obstruct his business activities unless he paid them 70 000 GEL. The investor informed the police about the issue. The police detained the suspects when they were taking the money.

Unfortunately, this case proves that there are still problems related to corruption, which require efforts of everybody, including the government, mass media and NGOs to eradicate them. The 10 July statement by four NGOs cannot be considered as a part of such an effort.

The NGOs state that “according to their information the investor himself offered money to the Mestians”, but they do not explain why the businessman would have decided “himself” to offer a financial contribution to the Mestian officials.

The authors of the statement say that the land was disputed, because “although Neli Naveriani had not registered that land area at the Georgian National Agency of Public Registry, her family had used it for several decades. Generally, in mountainous regions most of the population has not legally registered real estate which they own.”  We remind the authors of the statement that there is only one type of document, which confirms real estate ownership in Georgian legislation, and it is a record at the Georgian National Agency of Public Registry, which is equally valid for lowlands and mountainous areas.

Even if we imagine, that the land area was an object of dispute between the state and the Naveriani family, it is unclear, how could this authorize David Japaridze – Head of Mestia’s Municipal Office for Sport, Culture, Tourism and Youth Affairs, Neli Naveriani Member of Mestia Sakrebulo and their relatives, to extort money from an investor, who had legally purchased this land and paid a large sum of money for it. 
One more argument of the statement is that the videotape released on television “does not show the intimidation of the investor’s representative or threats to him.”  First, the prosecution has not presented all evidence it possesses, which is a common practice, and secondly, why there would be threats after receiving the extorted money. In cases of racketeering and extortion “intimidation and threats” usually occur before money is paid and not afterwards.

The authors of the statement also mention that “several local residents, who tried to defend the detainees, were physically injured.”  We would like to remind the authors that when someone obstructs the police during an operation to detain a suspect, this is qualified as “resistance to police” rather than “defense” and such behavior is punishable by law according to Georgian Criminal Code. An investigation into the case is already underway at the Mestian police.

The authors of the statement, based on unknown “witness” or “witnesses”, accuse the police of using excessive force against the detainees.  However, as it is mentioned in the statement itself, this fact is confirmed neither by the detainees, nor by representatives of the Office of Public Defender.

Finally, the statement says that: “Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Transparency International – Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy and Human Rights Center consider that the detention of Neli Naveriani may be related to her political activity.” And why? Because “Neli Naveriani began examining decisions taken by the previous Sakrebulo, as well as legal aspects of selling land without permission.” Here we can only assume how many more businessmen would Naveriani and her relatives approach and explain to them that the property, which they considered as legally purchased, was not in their legal ownership according to local traditions.

Unfortunately, “Transparency International” is among the signatories of this statement. As far we known, one of the main priorities of this organization is the fight against corruption and the protection of honest businessmen against violence from public officials. We hope that the Georgian branch of this organization shares these goals as well.

Certainly, every non-governmental organization has a right to conduct its own investigation. If they express such a wish, we would be glad to provide them with additional information on this case.
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