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On 19 December 2014, President Giorgi Margvelashvili released a statement regarding the ongoing mining work at the Sakdrisi mine. He stated: “Proceedings on the Sakdrisi case are still in progress in court. Everyone must wait until the process is over and the court ruling is implemented. Before that, large-scale mining activities at the site are unacceptable.”

FactCheck

took interest in Giorgi Margvelashvili’s statement and verified its accuracy.

The President‘s statement was prompted by the activities of the RMG Gold company to resume mining operations at Kazreti’s Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani license sector N1 on 13 December 2014 and the ensuing public outcry. According to those opposing the resumption of mining activities at the Sakdrisi mine, multiple archaeological research works indicate that the Sakdrisi mine is the oldest gold mining site in the world and represents an immovable monument of cultural heritage which should not be destroyed.

The Sakdrisi case has been controversial for several years. Sakdrisi was granted the status of an immovable monument of cultural heritage in 2006. That decision was based upon archaeological findings according to which the site was named the oldest gold mining site in the world, dating to the year 4,000 BC. On 5 July 2013, the Ministry of Culture revoked Sakdrisi’s status of a monument of cultural heritage on the ground that the archaeological site was unlawfully granted the status. However, according to the statement of the Ministry of Culture, the territory retained the status of an archaeology zone. Therefore, under the status of an archaeology zone, Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani received full legal protection until the conclusion of archaeological work. Based upon the decision of the government, Sakdrisi’s status of an archaeology zone was also abolished in October 2013.

After the decision of the Ministry of Culture, the NGO Green Alternative filed a lawsuit at the Tbilisi City Court to have the decision annulled. On 13 June 2014, the court partially ruled on the lawsuit and annulled the decision revoking Sakdrisi’s status of a cultural monument. However, the decision did not automatically restore its status of a cultural monument and the court ruled that the Ministry of Culture was obliged to discuss the status of Sakdrisi anew. The Ministry appealed the court ruling at the Tbilisi Appellate Court arguing that it had not done anything against the law and demanded that the Tbilisi City Court ruling be abolished. The respective proceedings are still in progress at the Tbilisi Appellate Court.

On 13 January 2014, the Ministry of Culture refused to issue a positive opinion to allow the RMG Gold company to launch a large-scale land development and mining operation. After the company submitted an administrative complaint, the Government of Georgia adopted Resolution No. 313 which abolished the aforementioned decision of the Ministry of Culture and obliged the Ministry to discuss the documentation submitted by RMG Gold anew. According to the conclusion published by the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, “the [existence of] an ancient gold mine or a monument of universal significance was not proven on the territory of Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani.” Based upon that decision, the Ministry of Culture issued a positive opinion on 14 March 2014, effectively allowing RMG Gold to implement large-scale land development on the licensed territory of Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani. However, the Ministry deemed it necessary to have independent scholars and experts monitor the work carried out by the company.

On 15 May 2014, Kakha Kozhoridze and Dali Mamulashvili submitted a lawsuit to the Tbilisi City Court, demanding a suspension of the administrative-legal act of 13 March 2014 of the Ministry of Culture. According to the Court, it is important to preserve the very characteristics, traits and the environment which make Sakdrisi valuable in terms of history, culture and archaeology. The Court sided with the complainants who asserted that if the act of 13 March 2014 had been enforced, the mining site could have suffered such enormous damage that it would have been impossible to restore its original shape and archaeological value. On 13 May, the Court ruled in favour of the complainants and suspended the decision of the Ministry of Culture (on granting the right to RMG Gold to conduct a large-scale land development and mining operation). According to the Court, the company was forbidden to carry out any respective mining work before the final verdict was reached. RMG Gold decided to appeal that ruling at the Tbilisi Appellate Court although the Court ruled in favour of enforcing the ban imposed by the City Court.

On 13 December 2014, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) issued a statement regarding the resumption of the work at Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani, claiming that following the decision of the City Court, RMG Gold’s actions to resume work at that territory contradicted the law.

Conclusion

There were two court hearings regarding the status of Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani as an immovable monument of cultural heritage and regarding the right of RMG Gold to conduct land development and mining operations on that territory. In the first case, on 13 June 2014, the court partially ruled in favour of the lawsuit submitted by Green Alternative and annulled the decision of the Ministry of Culture which had revoked the status of the Sakdrisi mine as a cultural-historical monument. The Ministry of Culture appealed that ruling at the Tbilisi Appellate Court and legal proceedings are still in progress. Further, on 30 May 2014, the Tbilisi City Court ruled in favour of the mediation submitted by Kakha Kozhoridze and Dali Mamulashvili and suspended the decision of the Ministry of Culture which allowed RMG Gold to conduct large-scale land development and mining work at the territory of Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani. The Tbilisi Appellate Court upheld the decision of the Tbilisi City Court. Therefore, as a result of the court ruling, RMG Gold had no right to conduct large-scale mining work at that territory.

According to FactCheck, Giorgi Margvelashvili’s statement: “Proceedings on the Sakdrisi case are still in progress in court… Until there is a court ruling, it is unacceptable to have large-scale mining activities at the site,” is TRUE.

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