07TBILISI384, Georgia Update February 23

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI384 2007-02-26 13:52 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #0384/01 0571352
R 261352Z FEB 07

E.O 12958: N/A 
SUBJECT: Georgia Update February 23 
1. This cable contains current items of political, economic, and 
social interest concerning Georgia during the weeks of February 
The 81 Richest Georgians? 
2. The newspaper Georgian Times stirred up considerable public 
interest with its February 15 list of Georgians with estimated 
wealth above USD 10 million.  The list includes 81 persons living in 
or outside Georgia, many of them former or current members of the 
government.  The biggest news was the appearance of the names of 
former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and Prime Minister Zurab 
Noghaideli on the list, with USD 250 and USD 75 million dollar 
estimated wealth respectively.  Several members of the parliament 
also were alleged to be millionaires.  The newspaper, whose 
credibility has often been questioned, did not explain the precise 
methodology that was used to compile the list, but said that the 
list was based on capital value owned by individuals and on 
information provided by independent experts and the individuals 
Parliament Debates Murder Cases 
3. On February 16, the opposition proposed creation of a special 
parliamentary commission to investigate the high-profile murders in 
2006 of Sandro Girgvliani and Amiran Robakidze.  Opposition MPs and 
some human rights activists believe that high-level Interior 
Ministry officials were involved in both murders and have yet to be 
held responsible.  The proposal failed, however, with many ruling 
party MPs arguing that such a commission would be a "vote of no 
confidence in the Prosecutor's Office and the judiciary."   Some 
lawmakers from the ruling party, mainly those with close links to 
Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze, voted for the commission. 
Burjanadze, who was visiting Canada at the time of the vote, had 
said in Parliament February 13 that Georgian courts should shed 
light on the Girgvliani murder case "in a way expected by society." 
Parliament Focuses on Property Rights 
4. The opposition has called for a property rights protection bill, 
keeping the issue front-and-center since the opening of Parliament's 
spring session.  Opposition factions have prepared a draft law that 
would require a court decision for any confiscation of private 
property, limit the time frame for challenging entries in the public 
register, and require the Prosecutor's Office to investigate every 
case of property confiscation.  Responding to the opposition's call 
for a property rights protection bill, Parliamentary Speaker Nino 
Burjanadze suggested lawmakers set up an inter-faction group to look 
into reported cases of property rights' abuse by the authorities and 
to elaborate a bill to provide additional protection.  Opposition 
MPs welcomed this initiative. 
Raising Business Awareness of Parliamentarians 
--------------------------------------------- - 
5. An office of the UK-based International Association of Business 
and Parliament (IABP) opened in the Georgian Parliament on February 
13.  The project, sponsored by EU and other donors, is designed to 
support good governance and economic development through building 
transparent and non-corrupt relationship between business and 
legislators.  IABP is expected to facilitate dialogue between 
business and Parliamentarians on business-related issues.  Speaker 
Burjanadze expressed hope that development of the Georgian model for 
business and Parliament could be transferred to other emerging 
German FM Visits Tbilisi 
6. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Tbilisi 
on February 19 and met President Saakashvili, Prime Minister 
Noghaideli and Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili.   Talks focused on the 
role of the EU in the resolution of Georgia's separatist conflicts 
and Germany's stance on Georgia's accession to NATO, as well as 
Georgia's European Neighborhood Policy action plan, Georgian-Russian 
relations and issues related to energy security.  Steinmeier said 
publicly that resolution of the conflicts should not be a 
precondition for the country's NATO membership, although he noted 
that the linkage between these two factors "is a difficult issue." 
Steinmeier said any Kosovo precedent could not be considered 
applicable to the conflicts in Georgia, and added that Germany is 
ready to push for conflict resolution issues in Georgia as part of a 
German-Russia dialogue. 
Visits Highlight Investment from Kuwait, UAE 
7. Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli visited Kuwait on February 17-19, 
saying afterward that the "Kuwaiti government will invest in energy 
and infrastructure development in Georgia."  The Economic 
Development Fund of Kuwait, which has provided USD 18 million for 
rehabilitation of Tbilisi roads this year, will provide an 
additional USD 720 million for construction of the Namaxvanhesi 
hydro power plant on the Rioni river in 2009-2014, the construction 
of a highway in eastern Georgia
 scheduled for 2008, and (with 
TBILISI 00000384  002 OF 002 
co-financing from Turkish investors) the refurbishment of Batumi 
Airport.  During his visit in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 
February 15-17, President Saakashvili reportedly discussed the UAE's 
potential investment of USD 817 million in real estate projects in 
Landing Safely in Tbilisi 
8. Reviews of the new terminal of the Tbilisi International Airport, 
which opened February 7, have been generally positive but a leaky 
roof led to the resignation of the airport's director February 19. 
The new terminal, with an annual capacity of 2.5 million passengers 
and a total area of 24,000 square meters, was built by a Turkish 
consortium over the past year.  In his opening speech, President 
Saakashvili described the airport as one of the best in Europe. 
Nevertheless, a light rain ten days later caused a leakage in the 
terminal's glass roof, which was followed quickly by the director's 
resignation.  The Batumi Airport in western Georgia, being rebuilt 
by the same consortium, is scheduled to open in May 2007. 
New Georgian-Turkish Airline to be Launched 
9. A new Georgian-Turkish airline is expected to start flights by 
the summer of 2007.  The Georgian Industrial Group (GIG) and Pegasus 
Airlines have signed a memorandum to create a joint venture offering 
competitive prices and western-style services.  GIG is a large 
industrial consortium, which owns cement factories, the Azoti 
fertilizer plant, coal mines, and gas infrastructure assets in 
Georgia.  Pegasus is the oldest private airline in Turkey.  It flies 
Boeing 737-400's and Boeing 737-800's to more than 70 countries. 
Prospects for Domestic Gas Production 
10. In February Canargo Energy Corporation began exploration of 
natural gas deposits near Kumisi lake south of Tbilisi.  According 
to a memorandum of understanding signed by the Ministry of Energy 
and Canargo in March 2006, the government will buy the whole amount 
of gas discovered in Kumisi.  Canargo, an oil and gas exploration 
and production company with operations in Georgia and Kazakhstan 
expects initial results of the exploration in the summer of 2007. 
Presently Georgia is net importer of gas, mainly from Russia. 


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