Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August 2014, 08:39 GMT

Kidnapping of British businessman in Georgia focuses attention on law-enforcement corruption

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Ken Stier
Publication Date 10 July 2002
Cite as EurasiaNet, Kidnapping of British businessman in Georgia focuses attention on law-enforcement corruption, 10 July 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46a4850fc.html [accessed 27 August 2014]
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Ken Stier 7/10/02

The recent kidnapping of a British businessman is focusing attention on government corruption in Georgia, as some top government members maintain that law-enforcement officials were involved in the abduction. The incident also underscores the inability of Georgian police to protect entrepreneurs.

Masked abductors dressed in police and military uniforms seized Peter Shaw, a banker who was working as a consultant for the European Union at the time of his kidnapping, on June 18 in central Tbilisi. Several police officers allegedly witnessed the abduction but took no action to intervene, according to a report on Georgian television June 27. Government efforts to locate and rescue Shaw, including a house-to-house search of a Tbilisi neighborhood, have proved futile.

The kidnapping touched off recrimination within the Georgian government. State Security Minister Valeri Khaburdzania went so far as to issue a June 25 statement alleging that unnamed Interior Ministry officials were involved in the abduction. State Minister Avtandil Jorbenadze reached a similar conclusion, saying the evidence points to "collusion between the criminal underworld and representatives of official structures."

The Georgian Interior Ministry has been a frequent target of corruption allegations, especially over involvement in narcotics trafficking. For example, a report broadcast by the independent Rustavi-2 television station June 23 showed secretly filmed footage of Kote Qurashvili, head of the ministry's anti-narcotics department, purportedly giving heroin to an associate to be sold.

Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze has bemoaned the kidnapping and has reiterated calls to improve security and combat corruption. Local observers, however, point out that Shevardnadze often makes pronouncements that he doesn't follow up on – either because he is unwilling or unable. "Shevardnadze has enough control of the police to stay in power, but not enough to really fight against crime," says criminologist Giorgi Glonti.

Few crimes are solved in Georgia. Official salaries for police officers are roughly $30 per month, and the government's continuing fiscal difficulties mean that pay is often delayed. Law enforcement officials are widely viewed as being involved in much of the country's criminal activity, thus there is little public support and respect for the police.

There have been at least four kidnappings, two murders and several serious assaults in the last 18 months committed against foreigners. In these cases, police have made no arrests. An earlier wave of muggings has tapered off, but in the last five months there have been 47 documented attacks against foreigners. Local observers believe that official statistics underreport the problem of crime involving foreign victims.

Shaw's kidnapping, however, has stirred the EU into action. EU officials have cautioned that they are prepared to suspend a 45-million-Euro aid program if Shaw is not released by mid-July.

Georgian leaders have sought to reassure the EU on the criminal investigation, but EU officials want results. The EU's External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, in a sharply worded June 24 letter, said the current circumstances prevented "business as normal" between the EU and Georgia.

Shaw worked on EU projects the entire six years he spent in Georgia, thereby acquiring a quasi-diplomatic status. "He was one of us," says a rattled EU diplomat, who noted that Shaw met the six EU ambassadors resident in Tbilisi the morning of his abduction, June 18 – just two days before he was scheduled to leave the country. Shaw also met with Shevardnadze several times, including a February 2000 ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Agro-Business Bank that he had been managing. Some EU officials had viewed the bank as a model project that could be replicated in other countries of the former Soviet Union.

British Ambassador Deborah Barnes Jones said London would not pay a ransom – which, according to some reports, is as high as $2 million – to secure Shaw's release. Nevertheless, such payments have often proven the only way to free kidnapping victims. For example, two Spanish nationals who were held for over a year, admitted to paying $500,000 to win their release.

Some Georgian officials have intimated that Shaw's own involvement in corrupt practices was a factor in his abduction. "The Ministry of Agriculture considers Shaw a dishonest businessman, but the National Bank has a different opinion," said an analysis published in the New Version newspaper. EU officials insist Shaw was an honest businessman.

Murtaz Kikoria, chief of the National Bank of Georgia's department for banking supervision and regulation, dismisses theories that Shaw's kidnappers were motivated by Shaw's banking activities. "We don't see any irregularities or major conflict of interest or big problems that might be a case for kidnapping, it [must] be something very personal with Mr. Shaw," he says. Even friends acknowledged Shaw was often abrasive, but many signs point to money as the main motivation for the kidnapping.

Ironically, for other foreigners living and working in Tbilisi, it might come as a relief to find that there were special circumstances that made Shaw a target, beyond his expatriate salary, which is exorbitant by Georgian standards.

Some officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Tamara Beruchashvili, have warned that the inability to solve the kidnapping case, and a subsequent cut-off in EU aid, could have adverse ramifications for government stabilization efforts. It could also cause further economic disruption at a critical moment for Georgia.

The issue of security of foreigners in Georgia appears set to assume a higher profile in the coming months. Construction on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline began last month [For additional information see the EurasiaNet Business and Economics archive], and the project will require that dozens of foreigners, perhaps hundreds, will be required to move to Georgia. Improving the security environment seems likely to be a major challenge for Shevardnadze's government.

Editor's Note: Ken Stier is a freelance journalist who has worked in several countries.

Posted July 10, 2002 © Eurasianet

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