A group of ambassadors representing the diplomatic corps accredited to Georgia has raised “grave concerns” about reported wiretapping by the South Caucasus country’s security services.
Last month, Georgia was hit by a scandal when thousands of alleged security-service files were leaked, seeming to document widescale and long-running state surveillance of journalists, clergymen, diplomats, and others.
In a joint statement on October 4 released after a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, the diplomatic corps said the alleged wiretapping constitutes a “serious breach” of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and “compromises normal diplomatic work in Georgia.”
The meeting was attended by a representative group of ambassadors, composed of Holy Sea envoy Nuncio Jose Avelino Bettencourt, EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan, and Japanese Ambassador Imamura Akira.
Although the authenticity of the leaks from a whistle-blower has not been officially confirmed, they appeared to show the State Security Service eavesdropped on Hartzell, U.S. diplomats, Israel's ambassador, and other diplomatic missions in Tbilisi.
Many of the recordings focused on the Georgian Orthodox Church.
In response to the scandal, the Prosecutor's Office immediately launched an investigation into possible illegal eavesdropping and wiretapping, while State Security Service (SSG) head Grigol Liluashvili has rejected calls for his resignation.
In a statement after the meeting, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry said it reaffirmed the government’s interest in undercovering the truth about the leaked files.
“Zalkaliani provided the foreign diplomats with information on the fact-finding process undertaken by the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia to establish the authenticity and source of files disseminated by the media,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The statement pointed out that Georgia had appealed to the United States and other countries for legal assistance in the investigation.
Zalkaliani also reaffirmed Georgia’s commitment to its international obligations, including the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations.
The Foreign Ministry statement stands in contrast to the views of the ruling Georgian Dream party, which has denounced the scandal as a political provocation aimed at destabilizing society while seemingly justifying surveillance.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has downplayed the spying allegations.
"As for the surveillance, it happens in every country, and our country is no exception," Gharibashvili said on September 27. "Yes, we conducted surveillance, but in accordance with the law and within the limits of the law."
Hartzell said last month that "the volume and nature" of the alleged eavesdropping appeared to go beyond the normal activities of security agencies in addressing potential threats.