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On 7 November 2014, whilst taking part in Imedi TV’s Reaction programme,

leader of the Labour Party of Georgia, Shalva Natelashvili, criticised members of the Parliamentary Majority. According to Mr Natelashvili, Georgia’s budget is being used in their favour: “An Agricultural Development grant, an interest-free preferential credit worth USD 7 million, was given not to tangerine farmers in Guria, to apple farmers in Kartli or to grape farmers in Kakheti, but to Gogi Topadze and he invested this amount in a pheasant farm.”

FactCheck

took interest in this statement and verified its accuracy.

We addressed the Press Service of the Labour Party of Georgia and asked its representative to confirm Mr Natelashvili’s statement. In its response, we were told that this amount was a preferential credit allocated to farmers within the framework of the Agricultural Development Grant project but the Service did not specify the exact date of the issuing of the credit.

The board of the Rural and Agricultural Development Fund approved the Preferential Agro Credit project on 26 February 2013. According to the information of the Ministry of Agriculture, no such kind of state project existed during the rule of the previous government. Therefore, according to Shalva Natelashvili’s statement, Mr Topadze should have received the aforementioned credit as a part of the Preferential Agro Credit project. FactCheck

endeavoured to verify whether or not a credit for the funding of a pheasant farm was issued within the framework of the Preferential Agro Credit project.

The objectives of the Preferential Agro Credit project imply the funding of new enterprises and refitting or updating existing ones. New enterprises are being financed as a part of the activities of the project’s third component. The maximum amount of a credit to be issued in this component is USD 600,000. The credit has a 3% interest rate and is issued for a maximum term of seven years.

The list of 74 funded new facilities is published on the website of the Agricultural Projects Management Agency. Of note is that a pheasant farm does not appear on the list. As of today, a total of 90 projects have been funded within the framework of the Preferential Agro Credit project.

We asked the Agricultural Projects Management Agency to provide us with information if funding has  been given to finance a pheasant farm. The Agency confirmed that no credit has been issued for an enterprise of this nature. Even if the aforementioned credit had been issued as a part of the Preferential Agro Credit project, its amount would not have reached USD 7 million as the maximum credit amount within the framework of the project’s third component is USD 600,000.

For additional information, FactCheck took a look at Maestro TV’s Open Door Day (Ghia Karis Dghe) programme in which a journalist spoke with Gogi Topadze about his business activities. Mr Topadze introduced viewers to his hunting farm, Floodplains of Iori (Ioris Chalebi),

a large complex comprising a hotel, pheasant farm, bee farm and fishing impoundments. He spoke about the pheasant farm and told that nearly 400 pheasants are bred there per year.

As a part of its research on this issue, FactCheck also looked into the pheasant farm in the National Public Registry of Georgia. LTD Ioris Chalebi

was registered in the Registry on 2 April 2004. The shareholders of the LTD are Giorgi Topadze – 17%, Giorgi Asatiani – 25%, Mikheil Vashakashvili – 12%, Giorgi Topadze – 17%, Irakli Topadze – 17% and Nikoloz Songhulashvili – 12%.

In the process of verifying Mr Natelashvili’s statement, we found an article concerning Gogi Topadze on the online edition of commersant.ge. According to the article, Mr Topadze is planning to launch a new complex of enterprises before the end of the year or by the spring of 2015. The complex of enterprises will include oil, soap and milk processing factories and will be opened in the Kakheti and Kartli regions and employ many locals. Mr Topadze confirmed that he indeed intends to take a credit from the state to finance this endeavour. The credit will be taken as a part of the Product of Georgia or Preferential Agro Credit projects. The MP added that the business plan has already been processed. The oil factory, for example, will cost GEL 7-8 million.

According to Article 8 of the Law of Georgia on the Status of a Member of the Parliament of Georgia, MP status prohibits business activity and holding a position in a public office simultaneously. However, the prohibition of business activity for an MP does not encroach upon the right to property granted by the Constitution of Georgia. An MP is allowed to hold stocks, shares and other kinds of property. Therefore, the legislation does not restrict Gogi Topadze, as an MP, from possessing any kinds of property or holding a share of any property. Nevertheless, he is not allowed to carry out business activity. As the MP is speaking about his business plans, this creates the perception that he is informally involved in business activity.

Conclusion FactCheck’s study showed that Gogi Topadze indeed has a pheasant farm which features as a part of his hunting complex, Ioris Chalebi.

However, this farm was registered on 2 April 2004 whilst the Preferential Agro Credit project was enacted in March 2013. The project’s third component, providing funding for new enterprises and refitting existing ones, offers a maximum amount of USD 600,000 in preferential rate credit (Mr Topadze’s enterprise, therefore, could not receive the amount of GEL 7 million). Our study further revealed that the farm has indeed not been funded within the framework of the Preferential Agro Credit project. The information of the Agricultural Projects Management Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia does not support the statement made by Shalva Natelashvili as well.

Nevertheless, Gogi Topadze plans to create enterprises with credit received from a state project in the future. It is likely that Mr Natelashvili was referring to this intention in his statement.

Of special note is that Georgian legislation prohibits MPs from business activity whilst holding a position in a public office. Formally, Mr Topadze is not carrying out such activities although his interview with Maestro TV’s journalist leaves the impression that he is, in fact, actively involved in business activity.

FactCheck concludes from the information retrieved that Mr Natelashvili’s statement: “Gogi Topadze received an interest-free preferential credit worth USD 7 million which he invested in a pheasant farm,” is FALSE.

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