Georgian Foreign Minister Tedo Japaridze discusses Georgian foreign policy with Svenja O'Donnell, Bloomberg News, London, January 2004.


2004-01-22 09:01 (New York)

Georgia to Crack Down on Corruption, Foreign Minister Says

Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Georgia's new government plans to crack down on corruption by arresting businessmen who break the law, Georgian Foreign Minister Tedo Japaridze said.

President-elect Mikhail Saakashvili will take immediate steps to enforce corruption laws, as well as shrink the size of government to "improve the country,'' Japaridze told Bloomberg News in an interview in London.

It will also seek to dispel its image as a conflict-ridden state by signing a treaty formalizing its relations with Russia, Georgia's largest neighbor, by the end of March, Japaridze said. "Democracy is all very well but it doesn't work without the rule of law," he said. The government will ensure "that people who break the rules are punished," he said.

"We will not hesitate in making arrests," said Japaridze, who's in London for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting on energy security. "Improving respect for the law and security in Georgia is the key in establishing good relations with its neighbors, including Russia."

Saakashvili, a Columbia University-educated lawyer, has vowed to fight corruption and lawlessness. Two of the country's regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are controlled by separatist rebels.

Saakashvili was elected on Jan. 4 after street protests led to the ousting of President Eduard Shevardnadze, whose government Saakashvili denounced as corrupt. The new president will be inaugurated Sunday.

UN, Soros Funds

The United Nations Development Fund and Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros are today expected to announce they will commit funds to support the government, including wages for officials, Saakashvili said at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also welcomed the change of government in Georgia, sending Saakashvili a telegram congratulating him on his election.

Georgia is seeking to mend relations with Russia after years of friction. Russia has about 3,000 soldiers in the country, forming a peacekeeping force in Abkhazia and at military bases in South Ossetia and the port of Batumi in the Ajaria region. Last week, Putin said any action against soldiers would be severelypunished, after Nodar Natadze, a Georgian nationalist leader, threatened to attack Russian bases.

Saakashvili and Japaridze are planning a meeting with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov immediately after Saakashvili's investiture to discuss their agreement, the first of its kind between the two countries.

"We have set this deadline to put an end to years of dispute between our countries," Japaridze said, to help convey a more "positive image" of Georgia.