Ambassador Degnan's Remarks to Media at Batumi Airport
Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: I’m very pleased to be here today at Batumi Airport for the donation of advanced baggage x-ray equipment by the United States through our Export Control and Border Security program. This equipment, made in the United States, will help Georgia ensure that its borders are safe from threats and contraband. This equipment will help screen baggage that may contain weapons or ammunition, explosives, or illegal contraband. We are very grateful to the Customs Service for helping us coordinate this donation, not just here in Batumi, but also equipment for Kutaisi Airport as well as for the border crossing at Larsi. All of this is a result of the very close partnership and coordination that the United States Embassy has with the Customs and Revenue Service here in Georgia. We’ve been working together on programs, training, and equipment donations like this for many years, and we greatly appreciate the wonderful cooperation that we always receive.
Question about the attempt to form a Parliamentary investigative commission on judicial corruption
Ambassador Degnan: The United States is always encouraging all of Georgia’s political parties to come into Parliament and take care of the important business for the people of Georgia in Parliament. That is why you have created this institution, so it’s never helpful when parties boycott the parliamentary sessions. In this case, we have said many times that this is an opportunity for Georgian authorities to investigate allegations of corruption within the judiciary that have been widely known for years. I want to make it very clear, since some have made statements about this that obviously were not well-informed. There was no mistake involved here. The United States has full confidence in the basis for the visa designations against these four individuals for their involvement in corrupt acts. We conducted a very thorough review and collection of information here, most of which is publicly available, before sending these visa designations up through our system to the Secretary of State. Secretary of State Blinken approved these visa designations because we have full confidence in the basis for these designations. As I said, this is an opportunity for Georgian government authorities to investigate these allegations themselves under Georgian law, looking into the same publicly available information and other information, should they choose to do so.
There is also no mistake about participation in the United States judicial programs. These programs are open to judges who are qualified, who have the time to participate, and who will benefit from the programs by bringing these ideas back to their own courtrooms. We have never summoned judges or demanded anything from judges—that is completely false and clearly the result of misinformed people. What we have had are very popular and successful exchange programs and study visits that many of Georgia’s judges have participated in, benefited from, and enjoyed. What seems strange is to say that you are standing in solidarity with the judges of Georgia, most of whom are extremely professional judges, who want to do their jobs in accordance with the law, by protecting four individuals for whom there is credible information of involvement in corrupt acts. It’s not protecting. It’s not standing in solidarity with professional judges to protect those who’ve been involved with corruption. I would hope that the government authorities here would take advantage of this opportunity to conduct their own investigation into these allegations based on information that is widely available and has been known for years.
Question about the BBC program on former Defense Minister Kezarashvili
Ambassador Degnan: I have not had a chance to see the program as I’ve been traveling. I’ve been hearing about it in the Georgian press though, and again, this is the kind of investigative journalism that is very important to holding the government accountable to uncover important information. But it’s just a start. This is the kind of public information that the authorities can use to conduct their own investigations. It’s an important element, and obviously, there’s more work to be done to follow up on these charges. I understand that Mr. Kezarashvili has also issued statements denying these charges. So obviously, more information is needed, and a legal process needs to be conducted. I’m sure it will.
Question on the effect of visa designations on Georgia’s EU membership efforts
Ambassador Degnan: The United States has been a very strong supporter of Georgia’s EU membership, and we are very supportive of you getting candidate status. In December, we will be celebrating with you 100 percent when that happens. This is obviously a difficult process that will take all Georgians working together to demonstrate to member states that Georgia is truly committed to the hard work that’s involved in being eligible for EU membership, including candidate status. These visa designations, which are mandatory under United States law, once we have sufficient credible evidence of involvement in corrupt acts, are an opportunity for the Georgian authorities to demonstrate their commitment to fighting corruption and to truly establishing an independent, impartial judiciary here. There has been some very good work done by Georgia over the last few years on judicial reform, but we have seen in the last four years a lack of political will to follow through on the kinds of meaningful reforms that would truly transform this judiciary into an independent judiciary. That is why there remain five Venice Commission opinions, recommending over and over the steps that Georgia could take if it wants to truly create the space for judges to operate independently and impartially within the judiciary. Georgia is fortunate to have many good professional judges. They want to do their jobs without interference from political figures or business figures, and I think they deserve that. That is what we recommend. That is what the European Union recommends. That is what the Venice Commission recommends. All that is lacking is the political will to follow through on these important reforms. So, we will be celebrating with all of Georgia in December when that candidate status decision comes, and we will support you in the hard work that is going to take over the coming months.