- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

TBLISI, Georgia — Impressed by the new Georgian government’s determination to fight corruption — including high-level indictments expected in the next few days — the United States has agreed to a significant reconfiguration of Washington’s aid program, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.

The shape of aid for the first time will include substantial assistance to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which in the past has been avoided as a “cesspool of corruption,” the official said.

Former Georgian government officials and their business partners probably plundered “hundreds of millions” of dollars from state coffers during the increasingly corruption-ridden 11-year presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze, the U.S. official added.

He spoke after two days of meetings with the new government leaders who had indicated they were looking into Swiss bank accounts of former bureaucrats.

The United States will assign an adviser to the ministry — which degenerated under Mr. Shevardnadze into a nest of organized crime — to help consider a long list of ministry requests, including the formation of a rapid-reaction force to be used for “any contingency.”

The official is part of a 12-member U.S. interagency task force that has been in the Georgian capital for the past two days meeting with new government officials, civic groups and the former president to ascertain near-term needs, including immediate budgetary support.

Rebuilding a reputable police force is considered one of the most critical long-term tasks facing the new government to make good on its repeated promises to tackle corruption.

In a measure of boldness, Georgian officials say they are poised to launch their anticorruption campaign in the coming days with several high-profile indictments.

Georgian officials hinted at such indictments, the U.S. official reported, but a Georgian official later confirmed a “few names everybody knows” would be among the first batch to be indicted and subject to arrest if they have not fled the country.

“The indictments will start within the next few days. There are investigations under way, and when the results are ready, they will be publicly announced,” said government spokesman Giorgi Arveladze. “And in no single case will the legal requirements be violated.”

Most analysts had not expected dramatic anticorruption moves until after the interim government had more time to consolidate its control over key ministries and probably until after the Jan. 4 presidential elections.

The new government, headed by interim President Nino Burjanadze, took power on Nov. 23 after massive street protests.

These demonstrations and security-force defections forced Mr. Shevardnadze to resign. But some, including Mikheil Saakashvili, the most prominent of the new troika leadership, which also includes Zurab Zhvania, have argued for striking before the country’s mafiosi are able to organize.

Still, officials say they are bracing for violence and attacks against the leadership, as occurred in Serbia. In March, a sniper gunned down Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic as he went after the country’s organized-crime rings.

“We expect them to fight for what they lost and what they are about to lose, and unfortunately, this fight will not be with roses in their hands. They are going to do everything possible to somehow disrupt the situation in the country … even being very violent and [launching] attacks against some of the leaders,” Mr. Arveladze said.

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