According to Maia Bitadze, chairwoman of the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, the state itself has started the process of revoking the license issued in connection with Racha forests, and it is unclear what organizing the agitation in Tbilisi serves.
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"Forests don't get sold in our country! The state itself initiated the process of canceling the license for the organization of the hunting farm due to non-fulfillment of the conditions, which was announced by the Ministry a few weeks ago! It is not clear what is the purpose of misleading the public, hysterically circulating false information, and creating a stir in the capital!" Bitadze responded to the protest rally started on November 18 outside the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture, which was organized by the Save Rioni Gorge movement.
The movement demands the cancellation of the license given to the partner of the Russian oligarch, David Khidasheli, which handed him 104,712 hectares of forest for 49 years under the pretext of organizing a special hunting farm. With this demand, the activists of the movement have been holding rallies for the last two months, first in Oni, and then in Ambrolauri, where they pitched a tent in front of the city hall building. The leaders of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the local government met the participants of the rally and told them that the license cancellation procedure is underway. The Ministry has issued several public statements on this matter. Varlam Goletiani and other members of the movement believe that the ministry is trying to confuse people and weaken the protest with its statements. On November 18, they moved from Racha to Tbilisi. The organizers of the rally wanted to set up a tent in the yard of the Ministry, which the police did not allow. They did not even allow the tent outside the yard of the Ministry and broke it. During the attempt of the demonstrators to block the highway, 11 people were arrested, including the journalist of the online platform Mautskebeli. Detainees were kept in temporary isolation cells for 24 hours. They were released by the court today - at the request of the lawyers, the hearing of the case was postponed until November 29. The protest rally outside the Ministry continues.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture claims that "there is no need to hold protests". According to the Ministry, the issue of declaring the hunting license invalid will be discussed in accordance with the law in the relevant timeframe.
Before that, on November 15, David Khidasheli announced that he had sold HG Capra Caukasika LLC and, by extension, the license.
"The contract is already being signed and in the next week it will become known that one of the stakeholders is involved with hunting farms in Spain; another Georgian company will also become a shareholder. If they don’t care for my investments, so be it. Many other countries will accept my investments with open arms,'' said Khidasheli. The Ministry assures that the license cannot be sold or given away without their consent.
Based on the decree of the Government of Georgia, the National Environmental Agency granted a license to David Khidasheli's company in March 2022. According to the terms of the license, Khidasheli was supposed to breed European bison, Caucasian domba, and red deer in the forests of Racha and Kvemo Svaneti, and organize hunting. The forests handed over to a person closely tied to the Russian government for half a century include the areas around the 79 villages of Racha and 2 villages of Kvemo Svaneti and are adjacent to the Russian-occupied Tskhinvali region and the Georgia-Russia border.
The journalistic investigation by Mountain Stories showed that the forests were transferred to Khidasheli in violation of many laws. In order to fulfill this intention, the authorities also forged documents.
These decisions have been appealed by the Green Alternative and the community organization of Racha in court demanding their annulment.