The Cartographers Case - A Politically Motivated Investigation

9 Oct, 2020

On October 7, former members of the governmental Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation, Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova were arrested by the Prosecutor Office of Georgia. They are accused of carrying out actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of Georgia (Article 308 of the Criminal Code of Georgia). We believe that the timing of the investigation, the pre-election context, the signs of a selective approach to the investigation, the populist statements made by the ruling party leaders, and the violation of the presumption of innocence, raises doubts that the investigation is politically motivated, aimed at creating misconception and discrediting political opponents.

The investigation launched on August 17, 2020. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the basis for launching the investigation was information received from the Ministry of Defense of Georgia. According to which the experts of the commission have been constantly ignoring certain documents after which the state border with Azerbaijan has been agreed to the detriment of the territorial interests of the country.

The Prosecutor’s Office claims that during the commission’s activities, the accused did not rely on the 1:200 000 scale topographic map published in 1937-1938, due to which the loss of the historical territories of Georgia was jeopardized.

Iveri Melashvili pleads not guilty and says his arrest is politically motivated.  He says that after examining and analyzing the topographic map on a scale of 1:200 000 published in 1937-1938, it has been determined that the map was defective. In particular, comparing the same elements of the map (railway, bridge, intersection, river, ravine, etc.) with other maps, it was evident that the inaccuracy was about 240-300 meters. Because of this, the map has not been used in the decision-making process. Mr. Melashvili states that “the people with different attitudes” thought that using this map would give Georgia more territory. However, they did not take into account the fact that the map was flawed and could not be used.

The prosecutor said that the motive for the alleged crime was still unascertained to the investigation. He also noted that the investigation has also been working on a version of a crime committed by high-ranking officials.  The prosecutor pointed out that the arrest of the accused was not related to the election period and that the investigation was expedited due to the top priority of the case. It is noteworthy that the court hearing was scheduled for the very second day of the arrest, which in fact violated the right of a fair trial (the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense). It should be noted that the case is quite extensive consisting of 7 volumes and more than 1000 pages.

We believe that the initiation of this investigation is politically motivated for several reasons:

  1. Timing of launching the investigation: The Investigation is underway during the pre-election period on an extremely sensitive topic for Georgian citizens. Raising similar issues in the pre-election period may be aimed at influencing voters. Similar actions were often taken by the ruling party in the pre-election period. For example, the investigation of the high-profile cases into the deaths of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili. Public statements made by politicians and public officials gave the impression that the main interest of the authorities was not to investigate these cases but to cause harm to opponents during the pre-election period.
  2. The Comments of the ruling party:  After the arrests of Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova, the leaders of the Georgian Dream made highly politicized and populist statements that violated the principle of the presumption of innocence. These statements were made at a time when the detainees had not even formally filed charges and the court had not ruled on any measure of restraint.
  3. Selective approaches during the investigation: The indictment covers the period of the commission’s activities from 2005 to 2007. Even though the current President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2005, she has not been interviewed so far. According to Iveri Melashvili, the chairman of the commission was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the activities of the commission were carried out under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Salome Zurabishvili was also aware of the activities of the commission.

Along with the pre-election context, it is also important to consider the case in a broader context. It’s noteworthy to find out the reasons for the intensification of this issue during the hostilities in the region between neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is a well-known fact that Russia’s interests have been to interfere in Georgia’s elections and stir up destabilization, including by trying to create tension between Georgia and Azerbaijan.

According to media reports, the topographic maps were provided to the Ministry of Defense by a businessman Davit Khidasheli who is close to the Russian special services. According to media reports, he obtained the documents with the help of Russian foreign intelligence officer Oleg Mubarashkin. It should also be noted that the launch of the investigation was preceded by a statement made by the leader of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, MP Irma Inashvili. She called for an investigation into the activities of the commission. The Dossier reported on the link between the Alliance of Patriots and the Russian special services, but the Prosecutor’s Office did not even launch an investigation.

Therefore we call on the Georgian authorities:

  • To stop manipulating sensitive topics for the population before the elections;
  • To study the risks of interference by the Russian special services in the internal affairs of Georgia and the issue of involvement of persons related to Russia in the investigation;
  • To ensure a fair trial of Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova and to prevent the violation of the rights of innocent persons;
  • Ensure that the public is informed of the progress and results of the investigation, taking into account the high public interest in the case;
  • Strictly adhere to the presumption of innocence before the court makes a final decision on the case and do not use the issue for political purposes.

Transparency International Georgia

Open Society Foundation

International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)

The Media Development Foundation (MDF)

Society and Banks

In-Depth Reporting and Advocacy Center

Human Rights Centre (HRDIC)

Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC)

Georgia’s Reform Associates (GRASS)

Atlantic Council of Georgia

The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)

Civil Development Agency

Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)

UN Association of Georgia (UNAG)

Governance Monitoring Center