Speeches & Statements

President Saakashvili pledges to step up fight against organized crime

Four months ago we together launched a drastic fight against organized crime and 'legal thieves' [criminal bosses]. Since then, we have been receiving threats about mass disorder and jailbreaks. In the past 15 years the jails and the whole Georgia was ruled not by [former President] Eduard Shevardnadze but by 'legal thieves' and bandits. They were controlling the economy, energy system, movement of people, our streets and yards. I, together with my friends launched fights against them when I was Justice Minister. At that time Iralki Okruashvili was my deputy at the ministry. Unfortunately, we had neither time nor resources to bring this fight to its logical end. It took us certain period of time after the revolution to seriously start tackling with this problem. For this purpose we needed new detention centres. We have already built them in Rustavi and Kutaisi. We also needed new staff for the prisons. A new Chief of the Penitentiary System was appointed [Bacho Akhalaia] who was different from his predecessors, who ruled prisons in cooperation with the thieves. We have also launched a campaign to deal with these bandits.

Lately, the prisoners were drug dealing and returning the stolen cars from the prisons. They were giving orders on kidnapping people and switching on the telephones from the prisons. Criminal groups had been trying to blackmail the society.

As soon as we started to seriously deal with these thieves, we, with the help of the Parliament, adopted a law on confiscating their property. For the first time in our history thieves don't have a serious lobby in the Parliament and they became seriously nervous. Since they received support from certain forces, from the TV screens, from the streets and from the Parliament they started swearing at the police force, which enjoys great trust from the public. They thought that we are weak and are afraid of them. You are wrong, esteemed bandits, robbers, thieves and other scum. This time you are dealing with a different government in Georgia

I would like everybody to know what kind of threat was posed to society that night. 4,000 dangerous, desperate criminal could have escaped into the streets which meant hundreds of stolen cars, hundreds of robbed houses, hundreds of raped people, hundreds of murder cases and many other disasters and disorders.

I want you to recall the time when hundreds of criminals escaped from this very prison during the presidency of [late] Zviad Gamsakhurdia after which civil war broke out in Georgia followed by robbery, disorder and burglary. My family was robbed at that time by the criminals who had escaped from the prison. My grandfather still remembers how they beat him a rifle butt on his head. Many families in Tbilisi experienced the same thing.

After a coup the bandits came into power and even those who remained in the prisons were released and it turned into a raid of Samegrelo [a region in western Georgia], where they did not live a single house that was not robbed. There are many of those among these people whom we sent to prison after the revolution. I am a father and all of us have families. I am very grateful to the Justice Ministry officials and Georgian police, who acted extremely professionally to avert terrible events. No-one is happy about the loss of people, irrespective of what kind of people they were. However, we will protect the public and protect law and order using all the means available within the law. Under the presidency of Zviad Gamsakhurdia we did not have statehood. The country was weak and we were not independent. Jaba's laws, i.e. lawlessness ruled under Jaba Ioseliani. Today, Georgia is a state. We have laws, a police force with professional policemen and the Justice Ministry which is being reformed. This Ministry enjoys full support. They are not afraid of blackmail on television because our people are very sensible. If they are told 10 times a day on television that black is white, they will still know full well that black is black - there is no place for dark forces in Georgian politics and the media, and they will gradually be displaced - and that white is white. They can easily make a distinction between good and evil.

We have declared a policy of zero tolerance on crime and we should continue with it and herd them all into prisons. This should be done within the law and in accordance with the law. However, the criminal procedure law should be changed in such a way that no-one gets away with suspended sentences.

I just want people involved in organized crime and their supporters to know this. Regardless of all the noise, blackmail and smear tactics they use against, for example, the head of the prison service - it is clear from recordings sanctioned by the courts what this scum were planning - regardless of the money their patrons may have and regardless of their supposed influence, we will reach everyone involved in organized crime, both the perpetrators and their patrons. This is neither the Wild West nor some other territory where criminals can operate at will and where a lot of money can buy justice. In Georgia, justice will not be bought for money or blackmail because we are unaffected by that

I promise everyone that by the end of this year we will fully exploit the prisons in Kutaisi and Rustavi and will move prisoners there. We will do everything to finish building a new detention centre which will meet modern standards. The prison in Ortachala should be pulled down, because technically it is impossible to totally provide security there and, on the other hand, the presence of this kind of prison in the centre of the city is a great threat. Therefore, we should finish building a new prison, which will be located far from the centre, where we will move the prisoners.

It is clear that organized criminals put up their last fight. The explosion in Kodori Gorge [in the Georgian-controlled part of Abkhazia on 27 March] aimed at leaving Georgia without electricity is a classic example of that. No-one should think that we will appease them. This is a different time. We would not negotiate with bandits. We have all the necessary means to establish order everywhere. Since these people have decided to challenge us, we accept their challenge. Everyone should know - criminals and their political and other supporters - even if they stand on their heads, we will still establish law and order in Georgia. We will have the supremacy of the law and there will be order here. People will feel safe in the streets. Businesses will open without any racketeering. This is already happening and will always be so. Parents who send their children to school in the morning will not be terrified when they are slightly late. Homes will be well protected. Our streets will be cleansed of this scum, this criminal scum. We are planning to adhere to all the requirements of the law and democracy. That is how any civilized country would have acted in such a situation. I must say that our police and justice officials showed a lot of professionalism.

The forces of many countries would have been unable to carry out such an operation so well and so quickly. I have seen that on television many times. We will reach all organized criminals. The Georgian state will stamp out all such crime and criminal mentality.

Part of this translation is published with permission from BBC Monitoring, Reading UK

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of the President of Georgia

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