This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.
Georgia’s National Agency of Public Registry transferred ownership of nearly 5,960 square meters of state-owned land to Nunu Tamazashvili, the wife of acting Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, on December 28. The request was made by the National Forestry Agency and has angered citizens and environmentalists all over the world.
The transfer was originally reported by the Pirveli TV channel, alleging that the land was Gharibashvili's New Years’ gift to his wife.
The land is a part of the State Forest Fund in the central Georgian municipality of Borjomi.
Pirveli reported that the land was directly adjacent to a house being built by the family. They said the site had previously been entirely fenced off, except for the part connecting the new house with the forest, suggesting it was known in advance that the land would be granted to them.
The land has been leased to Tamazashvili for 49 years, and she will pay GEL 6,256 (USD 2,000) annually for it. According to the terms of the lease, Tamazashvili will be allowed to set up a “temporary gazebo” for “sports and recreational purposes.”
“Resort, recreational, sport, and other cultural-recreational purposes” are among several criteria under which protected forests under the Georgian Forest Fund are allowed to be leased to third parties.
On January 23, the National Forestry Agency issued a statement on Facebook insisting that an auction for the land announced in December was open to everyone and that the lease included a list of obligations for lease-holders.
The Agency added that since 2021, they had leased 256 square kilometers from the State Forest Fund.
This is not the first time, Gharibashvili and his family stand accused of misusing power.
Gharibashvili previously served as prime minister between 2013–2015, before abruptly resigning from his post and politics in late 2015. He was reappointed into the premiership again in February 2021.
While he did not explain his departure from politics at the time, it became apparent that his mentor, ex-Prime Minister and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, was discontent with some of Gharibashvili’s relatives, hinting at possible corruption.
In April 2020, several months after his return to politics as Defense Minister, Radio Free Europe reported that Gharibashvili had failed to declare his and his wife’s collection of luxury wristwatches, which exceeded GEL 500,000 (USD 160,000) in value.
According to a November 2021 press release by the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), the Human Rights Centre, and the Green Movement of Georgia, the Georgian Forest Fund has lost 500 square kilometers of forest over the last five years.