New scandal of recent days has shaken the Georgian media, business and political circles: will the Authorities arrest TBC Bank founders and top managers? Have they genuinely engaged in money laundering? And why? What factors could trigger new scandal amid New Year celebrations on cloudless sky? In general, why was this issue raised and why now – when 10 years have passed since the fact and why in such a strange form, when, initially, media spreads accusations against business and only after this the prosecutor’s office releases the statement?
At a glance, there are a lot of multilayer questions, but wider analysis shows that, like many other cases, real reasons behind similar campaigns are different and this turmoil is only to mask the bigger and more strategic problem in the country.
State institutions, which directly or indirectly are involved in this process, such as the prosecutor’s office and the National bank of Georgia (NBG) confirm that this investigation cannot inflict much damage to TBC Bank: Georgia’s major banking institution is much stronger that the attacking scales against it – it is enlisted at London Stock Exchange and is subjected to its strictest regulations, the bank is audited by the great four auditors on annual basis, the bank has major and influential stakeholders and positions.
So, who is attacked and why? What processes are developed in reality and what are real grounds behind this strange and unsubstantiated attack. The fact is that TBC Holding is one of the most successful and diversified groups in the history of independent Georgia and there are a lot of successful companies related to this Holding: Georgian Glass and Mineral Waters Company, Lisi Development real estate, TBC Insurance and many other names, which were established as unconditional leaders on the market of corresponding industries. However, even this impressive list cannot be compared to the project that TBC Holding has been implementing over the past years to build a deep-water seaport in Anaklia. This project also calls for developing the neighboring city and a special economic zone.
This is a genuinely unique project in its essence and perspectives and its scales and importance in the history of independent Georgia may be only compared to BP oil pipeline. No other analogical project has been implemented in the 28-year history of independent Georgia. This project is of huge political and economic importance and it has the potential to rescue the save from Russia’s unhealthy interest space and create new perspectives for Georgia to draw new huge investments and receive serious revenues and other financial benefits.
The Anaklia project combines both political and economic aspects and that’s why it has huge price. That’s why its suspension will destroy Georgia’s significant perspectives and everybody recognizes this factor. For example, ben Hodges, the retired commander of the US Army in Europe, told the Voice of America in 2018:
„Georgia should be on the road for joining NATO, despite the Russian Army has occupied 20% of its territories, despite after 10 years of signing the Agreement with Sarkozi, when they assumed obligation of withdrawal, Russian soldiers remain there anyway. However, despite 1 million Russian soldiers stayed in eastern Germany, we adopted western Germany into NATO anyway. I believe we will find a mechanism for adopting Georgia into NATO. Georgia has seaports between Asia and Europe. After completion of a new seaport in Anaklia, Georgia will become a connecting chain between Asia and Europe. I believe economic interdependence strengthens security, because everybody has common goals in relation to the new seaport. Everybody is interested that Georgia become a seaport country and maintain stability and openness. This factor will strengthen Georgia’s security and ensure the main thing – balance in the Black Sea Region”, Ben Hodges noted. He never says excessive things, but his statement does not need additional comments – the 3-star general, who has commanded the US military group in Europe in 2014-2017 and knows all details of the Russian threat, has clearly outlined the importance of the Anaklia seaport construction project.
A representative of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) told the Emerging Europe that the Anaklia seaport construction project is of vital importance for Georgia.
“Anaklia seaport is a vital project for Georgia, because it will outline the route between Europe and China via the Caucasus and draw additional interest of foreign investors. This project will make Georgia stronger as the logistics center in the Caucasus and enhance its ties with Europe and China and neighboring countries”.
“China plans to reduce the 40%-50% subsidization of cargo transportation via Russia’s trans-Siberia route, because Russia lacks for railway infrastructure capacities and it has very slow cargo trains: Russia failed to persuade China to fund the modernization of trans-Siberia and Baikal-Amur railways. And the Russian Transport Ministry tends to cease cooperation with China in this direction if the latter does not provide corresponding funding”. This article was published in the January 2018 report of the Global Risk Insights’ Belt and Road Initiative.
Based on this aanalysis, there is additional potential to expanding trading scales through Anaklia deepwater seaport. China considers this route as a good opportunity for growing trade turnover with Europe and other destinations. Therefore, China demonstrates growing interest in Anaklia seaport.
In this context the statement that David Bohigian, executive vice President of Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), made in Tbilisi in August 2018, was very important. “Anaklia seaport development is part of the plan, under which the Black Sea region must be developed as a regional and global hub”, he noted.
The fact is that both political and economic benefits replenish each other as part of Anaklia seaport project, which is supposed to be an only deepwater seaport to the east of Bosporus Strait and it will be capable of receiving Post Panamax ships and this factor opens new horizons of navigation in our regions, Europe, Central Asia and China by offering a cheap and fast cargo transit route.
This is a real and evident opportunity to make Georgia a genuinely seaport country and comprehensively use the potential from its location at the Black Sea seaside, namely, change its rules of gale, develop new opportunities and not be confined by only touristic importance or unsystematized and inefficient transport instrument.
Expensive tariffs, low efficiency and unreliability is one of the key problems at Georgian seaports. Bad weather makes Georgian seaports suspend operation for at least 83 days a year, one average and this factor reduces reliability of our corridor and results in readdressing cargo flows to other destinations. Therefore, Anaklia seaport will considerably improve the reliability of our corridor and reduce the transit tariffs too.
The sea container terminal will be one of the factors for lowering service tariffs. The new terminal will be equipped with new technologies and it will ensure rapid handling of containers. The main thing is that, unlike many other unimplemented projects, Anaklia is not a project only dropped on paper – the huge part of the works have been already fulfilled, huge investment are invested and the project implementation is of irreversible character.
And amid these historical developments we see the strike below the belt against TBC Holding, one of the key actors of the Anaklia project. Huge campaign is triggered on cloudless sky asserting TBC Holding representatives are criminals, involved in money laundering and legal proceedings are instituted against them. Maybe, this is an “ideal” characterization for the partner, which is to launch cooperation with the tender winner company in several days. And this cooperation, initially, implies 600 million USD investments and employment of 2000 persons, while total investments are expected to record 2.5 billion USD. Under the project, the seaport will be able to receive ships in 2020.
Regretfully, we have seen similar films many times and we definitely know which country makes a use of similar unexpected changes. That very country and their private companies appear in the last series of similar games, when western business is expelled from Georgian space directly or indirectly. Even more so, Russia considers Anaklia Seaport as a competitor to Novorossiysk and it will take all efforts to thwart this project.
Therefore, there maybe attempts to frustrate the Anaklia seaport project that is to become an important instrument for saving Georgia from Russian influence. And the recent campaign against TBC Holding may be an organic part of this process.