After the United States government blacklisted Georgia's former prosecutor-general Otar Partskhaladze, the Georgian government stood up for the well-connected Partskhaladze, shielding him from reputational and financial damage caused by the American sanctions. The National Bank of Georgia even changed its rule of complying with US sanctions to avoid freezing the ex-official's assets.
Partskhaladze, who also holds Russian citizenship and has businesses in Russia, became the first Georgian to be sanctioned by the US government in connection with Russia's war on Ukraine. The State Department said that Partskhaladze, who has close ties with Georgia's political elite, was sanctioned for assisting the Kremlin in exerting "malign influence" on Georgia.
The US State Department rolled out its latest batch of sanctions on September 14, targeting individuals and companies who enable Russia's war machine and further Moscow's destructive interests in other countries. Partskhaladze fell under the latter category.
The State Department said that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) helped Partskhaladze obtain Russian citizenship and used him to "influence Georgian society and politics for the benefit of Russia." The sanctions target Partskhaladze personally as well as his businesses in Russia.
Georgia's governing party, the Georgian Dream, initially distanced itself from Partskhaladze, emphasizing that he has not held public office since 2013. "Otar Partskaladze has had no role in the government for 10 years, so he was included in the sanctions as a private individual," Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili said on September 14. Other members of Georgian Dream toed the same line.
Partskaladze had to step down as prosecutor-general in 2013 after it transpired that he had a criminal record and served a prison term in Germany.
The political opposition asserted that the sanctioning was a warning to Georgian Dream and its founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest and most powerful man in the country. Partskhaladze has close ties to the Ivanishvili family. "In effect, one hand of Bidzina Ivanishvili had been sanctioned," said Tsotne Koberdize, of Girchi - More Freedom, an opposition group.
But Georgian Dream soon changed tack and started hitting back at the U.S., dismissing the sanctions as part of a vendetta campaign by unnamed forces. Speaker Papuashvili and other officials demanded that the U.S. produce evidence of Partskhaladze's wrongdoings.
People's Power party, a spinoff of Georgian Dream created specifically to criticize the West, declared the move was part of "hybrid warfare waged by the U.S. on Georgia."
On September 18, Georgian Dream chairman Irakli Kobakhidze, warned the National Bank of Georgia against freezing Partskhaladze's assets, claiming that such a move would violate Georgia's Constitution. The following day, the National Bank of Georgia changed its own rule of compliance with US sanctions. Under the new rule, only indictment by a Georgian court can lead to the freezing of assets of a Georgian national facing international sanctions.
Still, Georgia's leading commercial banks said that they were going to comply with the US sanctions regardless of the change of the regulation by the National Bank.
Opposition parties fiercely condemned the ruling team's attempts to protect Partskhaladze and demanded an investigation into his activity in Georgia. Parliamentary debates on this subject degenerated into a brawl on September 20.
Partskhaladze's connection to the billionaire Ivanishvili appears to be driving Georgian Dream's attempt to defend the ex-prosecutor, who is known for his murky past. In 2017, he was accused of beating the head of the National Audit Service Lasha Tordia, who was looking into questionable connections between his company and the Tbilisi mayor's office. After a Georgian court acquitted Partskhaladze, Tordia escaped to the US and got political asylum there.
A year later, anonymously wiretapped and published phone conversations suggested that Partskhaladze kidnaped and beat former sports minister Levan Kipiani, but the ex-minister denied that the beating took place.
A group of Georgia's leading democracy and human rights watchdogs lambasted the government for its failure to effectively investigate Partskhaladze and to trace Kremlin's influence campaigns in Georgia.
"Given the current environment, there is little hope of seeing a fast and effective investigation," several organizations, including Transparency International Georgia and Open Society - Georgia Foundation, said in a joint statement. "It is disconcerting that the government and persons associated with it are trying to divert public attention away from this fact.