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Just for what he has allegedly been charged with so far, Makhachkala Mayor Musa Musayev could face 10 years in prison.

For the second time in less than five years, a mayor of Daghestan's capital, Makhachkala, has been detained over a suspected criminal offense.

Police detained 51-year-old Musa Musayev on January 19 following searches of his home and office. Investigators allege that he illegally transferred over 81 million rubles' worth of land in Makhachkala to a public company for a paltry 1.1 million rubles ($19,427) in March 2016.

Musayev has already categorically rejected the anticipated charge against him of inflicting serious damage on the republic's budget by exceeding his authority.

"I have done nothing over the past 2 1/2 years except try to serve my people and fatherland," the independent daily Chernovik quoted him as saying after a court hearing on January 21 at which the judge remanded him in custody for 10 days.

Russian and Daghestani analysts nonetheless see Musayev's detention as the first move in a sweeping and systematic purge of senior officials suspected of corruption that has been expected since October, when Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Vladimir Vasilyev, the former head of the United Russia State Duma faction, as acting republic head in place of Ramazan Abdulatipov.

Daghestan has long been a byword for endemic official corruption, possibly explaining why, in one of his first addresses to the regional parliament, former police Colonel General Vasilyev singled out as one of his most important priorities ensuring that the organs of state power in Daghestan revert to functioning within the law.

Musayev has degrees in finance and law. Over the past two decades, he has worked in the republican Finance Ministry (headed at that time by Abdusamad Gamidov, now acting prime minister) and in the Makhachkala municipal-finance department under Mayor Said Amirov, who is now serving a life sentence on charges of terrorism and commissioning contract killings. In September 2013, Abdulatipov named Musayev minister of construction, architecture, and housing, and in July 2015 acting Makhachkala mayor.

Shortly after he was confirmed as mayor in October 2015, Musayev vowed to transform the city completely within three years. The population of Makhachkala has doubled, from 350,000 to 700,000, since the late 1990s, but the provision of housing and municipal services has failed to keep pace with that expansion. The shortfall was met in part by the construction of illegal apartments blocks, often on land acquired illegally.

Musayev began his tenure as mayor by cracking down on such irregularities, announcing in September 2015 that he had already annulled 200-300 mayoral decisions made in violation of regulations on the sale and lease of municipally owned land. But it is unclear whether any further action was taken: In October 2016, Chernovik challenged Musayev to specify how many illegally constructed buildings had actually been demolished. Musayev countered by accusing the press of focusing exclusively on negative phenomena while failing to praise such initiatives as the planting of new flowerbeds.

Musayev's performance as mayor drew criticism in other respects, too. The municipal budget deficit increased to the point that, in Musayev's words, the city was on the verge of default. Provision of such elementary services as public transport, garbage collection, and clearing snow from the streets went by the board. In December 2016, Abdulatipov told Musayev outright he was not satisfied with the way Makhachkala was run and demanded the dismissal of its three district mayors. By early 2017, Musayev ranked last in a rating of mayors of the capitals of Russia's 88 federation subjects.

At that juncture, Abdulatipov had already warned Musayev that he would be fired if he failed to improve the provision of basic municipal services, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported in February.

Musayev's professional reputation was dealt a further blow by a high-profile court case involving his son Badrudin. In September 2017, a district court found Badrudin not guilty of assaulting and injuring a police officer who detained him after a minor traffic accident. The prosecution, which had demanded a five-year prison term, appealed that ruling, and in mid-January 2018 Daghestan's Supreme Court annulled it and called for a new investigation.

Rumors that Musayev and other senior municipal officials were suspected of malpractice began circulating in early December; Chernovik on January 19 quoted an unnamed source close to the investigation as saying that the criminal case opened against Musayev "is only the beginning" and that the total number of buildings constructed in Makhachkala in violation of planning regulations was several hundred.

Whether Abdulatipov, who reportedly signed off on the land deal in question and who has publicly spoken up in Musayev's defense, is also under suspicion remains unclear.

Musayev has not yet been formally charged with any crime, but the article of the Criminal Code cited by investigators on causing serious financial damage by exceeding one's official authority carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years.

Nor is the investigation into Musayev's actions likely to remain an isolated case. Just days before he was taken into custody, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika dispatched to Makhachkala a group of 38 federal prosecutors. Three of them, according to journalist Milrad Fatullayev, will assess the performance of the Makhachkala municipal authorities. According to Vasilyev, they will focus not only on suspected illegal sales of land but also on security problems, the energy sector (the city owes billions of rubles in unpaid gas bills), reactions to residents' complaints, and wage arrears. The other investigators, Fatullayev told Caucasian Knot, have been tasked with investigating the state of affairs in various republican ministries.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili (file photo)

Responding to concerns voiced by privately-owned TV stations and civil society organizations, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili announced on January 15 that he has vetoed amendments to the law regulating the Public Broadcaster passed by parliament in the third and final reading on December 22.

Private TV stations and civil society organizations had criticized the proposed changes as creating unfair conditions for the Public Broadcaster, which has only a minuscule audience share, to the detriment of smaller privately owned TV channels.

The amendments were drafted by a group of 13 lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream party. As summarized by Civil.ge, they envisage exempting the Public Broadcaster from the existing requirement to announce tenders for products or services; allow it to increase the duration of paid commercials broadcast within the space of 24 hours on working days from 30 to 60 minutes; abolish the requirement that it return unspent funds to the state budget at the end of the year; and reduce the powers of the broadcaster's nine-member oversight board.

Announcing his veto, Margvelashvili focused on just two of the proposed changes. He singled out as "problematic" the provision enabling the Public Broadcaster to air more commercials, pointing out that advertising is the life-blood of smaller private TV channels. Increasing the amount of airtime the Public Broadcaster may devote to paid commercials, Margvelashvili continued, thus risks undermining media diversity, which he described as "an important value for Georgians and Georgian democracy."

Margvelashvili also criticized the exemption of the Public Broadcaster from compliance with the Law On State Procurement as "the removal of regulations intended to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent economically and transparently." He said that while he fully agrees that the latter legislation needs amending in terms of the procurement of intellectual property, and should be brought into line with EU guidelines, the amendment in question fails to do so.

In conclusion, Margvelashvili expressed the hope that parliament would ponder his objections and make a decision that will, on the one hand, preserve media diversity and healthy competition, and on the other, ensure transparency in the spending by the Public Broadcaster of budget funds, InterPressNews reported.

'Unfair Advantages'

Margvelashvili's arguments echo criticisms by media professionals during the parliament debate on the bill that they grant unfair financial advantages to the Public Broadcaster and consequently pose a threat to the survival of smaller TV channels, and thus, by extension, to media pluralism.

Lasha Tughushi, who is chief editor of the newspaper Rezonansi, described the bill as "bad, it opens the door to corruption, destroys the advertising market, is directed against commercial channels, and cannot in any way help the Public Broadcaster," InterPressNews.ge reported.

The same news portal similarly quoted Ketevan Mtskhiladze, a member of the Public Broadcaster's oversight board, as admitting that given the advertising market is shrinking, granting the Public Broadcaster the right to air more paid advertisements would negatively affect private TV stations.

Public Broadcaster General Director Vasil Maghlaperidze denied this, however. "Don't paint a tragic situation in which we are trying to deprive someone of their livelihood," InterPressNews.ge quoted him as saying. "Media pluralism is a universal gain and essential for every citizen."

Georgia's Public Broadcaster only has a tiny share of the TV market. (file photo)
Georgia's Public Broadcaster only has a tiny share of the TV market. (file photo)

The parliamentary opposition, too, categorically rejects the bill. Roman Gotsiridze (United National Movement) protested last month that "we don't need a monster controlled by the state that consumes 50 million [laris, $19.68 million] and has a popularity rating that doesn't exceed 0.3 percent,"
while his party colleague Giga Bokeria advocated renaming the bill "On State Television."

Even within the ruling Georgian Dream parliament faction the amendments do not enjoy broad support. Meeting on December 20, members of the parliament's Sector Economy and Economic Policy Committee unanimously withheld their formal approval of them. Roman Kakulia, who chairs that committee, branded the bill "unfair." He said he would like to see the Public Broadcaster develop successfully "on the basis of justice and the principles of economic development declared by our team. Healthy competition is the main foundation on which our main economic principles are based."

'Risk Of Double Standards'

Kakulia went on to point out that the Public Broadcaster already enjoys a huge advantage in terms of the sums which it receives in state funding, and that allowing it to increase the amount of advertising it airs "is not a fair decision with regard to other TV channels, especially small ones."

As for the legal provision that the Public Broadcaster may allocate budget funds to support start-ups and innovative television, Kakulia argued that it creates the risk of double standards, and that the government should treat all such commercial projects equally.

Just 63 of the 150 lawmakers endorsed the bill in the final reading; three abstained.

President Margvelashvili met separately on December 18 (between the second and final readings of the bill) with representatives of commercial TV channels and civil society organizations, and with members of the Public Broadcaster's oversight board. He reassured the former group that he would raise their concerns with the board, but gave no indication whether he would veto the bill.

Maghlaperidze for his part said he and other board members tried to explain to the president precisely what their plans are, and how their opponents are distorting the essence of the amendments.

Maghlaperidze further claimed that the provision exempting the broadcaster from the need to announce tenders -- which media expert Zviad Koridze believes will facilitate corrupt practice -- has been misrepresented, and will apply only to creative programming. "We shouldn't set about acquiring programming and films the way you declare a tender for cement or air conditioners," InterPressNews.ge quoted him as saying.

Parliament speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who crossed swords time and again last year with Margvelashvili during the drafting and adoption of constitutional amendments, said lawmakers will review the amendments in light of Margvelashvili's stated objections. At the same time, he stressed that the amendments were intended to address the problem that the Public Broadcaster's rating is very low. The Public Broadcaster announced in early 2017 an ambitious three-year modernization program intended to address that problem.

Nino Djangirashvili, who is general director of the private TV channel Kavkasia, expressed the hope that lawmakers will avail themselves of the opportunity to amend the bill in light of Margvelashvili's comments which, she pointed out, are no harsher than the criticisms expressed last month by parliament committee chair Kakulia. But senior Georgia Dream lawmaker Gia Volsky is already on record as saying he thinks parliament will ignore the veto. Volsky said Margvelashvili "went beyond professional analysis and took a political position.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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