About Civil.ge
Eng | Geo | Rus
Last updated: 17:53 - 19 Feb.'18
RSS
Mobile
Twitter
Facebook
Watchdog Group on Geocell Tax Probe
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 18 Feb.'14 / 16:44

Watchdog group, Transparency International Georgia, has suggested that ongoing probe by the financial police in Geocell over alleged tax evasion might be linked to mobile operator’s recent efforts to change legislation that currently allows law enforcement agencies to have direct access to communication networks without proper judicial oversight.

Probe into Geocell, which is part of the Swedish-Finnish telecom operator TeliaSonera, was launched by the Finance Ministry’s Investigative Service, known informally as financial police, on February 13. The financial police said without providing other details that the probe was ongoing into alleged “large-scale tax evasion.” Geocell said in a statement on February 14 that it operates transparently and is one of the largest taxpayers in the country, which has no reason whatsoever to evade taxes.

Over the past year, anti-corruption and rights watchdog, Transparency International Georgia, has been cooperating with Geocell in lobbying for legislative amendments that would help impose stringent surveillance regulations.

“The allegations against the company are brought just before a reform of legislation on government surveillance [is expected to] be discussed in Parliament – a topic on which Geocell had taken a strong stance,” TI Georgia said in a statement on February 18.

“The case might be seen by business leaders as a warning against speaking out, and might undermine efforts to attract foreign investment,” it said. “So far, any changes to the status quo that would introduce actual oversight over surveillance have been sharply opposed by the MIA [Ministry of Internal Affairs] and the Prosecutor’s office.”

Geocell has declined at this stage to comment on suggestions about possible link between ongoing probe and company’s lobbying for legislative changes.

Finance Minister, Nodar Khaduri, said on February 18 that the ongoing probe has nothing to do with politics. Company’s operations have not been hindered by the ongoing probe, he said.

Secret surveillance, privacy rights and personal data protection have been a source of concern in Georgia for years already, but the issue became subject of intense discussions with an active government engagement last year and the authorities have pledged to establish strong mechanisms both on legislative and executive level to prevent illegal surveillance. But concerns still remain as law enforcement agencies maintain 'black box' devices in the server infrastructure of major telecommunication companies, giving security agencies direct access for simultaneous monitoring of thousands of mobile phone numbers.

“At present, Georgia operates a mixed system. In some cases, operators receive court decisions requiring them to give the authorities access to their networks, in other cases, the authorities can establish access directly without the knowledge of the operators,” Pasi Koistinen, CEO of Geocell, wrote on TeliaSonera’s blog in October, 2013.

“We have actively participated in the work of the committee [tasked to develop new legislation to tackle the problem], and we believe it has significantly contributed to the recent initiative of the Government of Georgia to draw up a new draft law on surveillance activities,” Koistinen wrote.

Transparency International Georgia said that while Geocell is not the only telecommunication operator in the country that has been supportive of better regulations, “its Chief Executive Officer has been outspoken on the issue.”

TI Georgia has warned that if the ongoing probe against Geocell “turns out to lack substance, this high-profile case could have a further chilling effect on foreign investment in Georgia.”

“We call on the Ministry of Finance to provide the public with all facts concerning the Geocell case. It is important that no further questions arise about the actions of the financial police,” TI Georgia said.

“Furthermore, the Geocell case will likely be perceived by large parts of the business community as a strong warning – a message that any activism and statements that could be interpreted as public criticism of the authorities, most importantly of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are not tolerated. This might result in a similar atmosphere as in the final years of the United National Movement government, when the private sector refrained from any criticism of the authorities, fearing arbitrary retaliation,” the watchdog group said.

Latest News
19 Feb.'18 15:49
CSOs, Media Outlets Call for Parliamentary Probe into Mukhtarli Case
The joint statement has been signed by 35 local civil society organizations and media outlets.
19 Feb.'18 14:09
Georgian PM Meets World Leaders in Munich
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili attended the Munich Security Conference on February 16-18.
16 Feb.'18 16:58
Government Unveils New Tax Initiative for Small Businesses
According to the initiative, tax rates for small businesses will decrease fivefold.
16 Feb.'18 15:06
Georgian Economy Minister Visits Azerbaijan
Kumsishvili attended the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council. 
15 Feb.'18 17:39
Independent Agency to Investigate Crimes Committed by Law Enforcement Officers
The agency will be established in 2019, and will replace the Office of Personal Data Protection Inspector.
15 Feb.'18 11:53
Parliament Renews Discussions on Controversial Amendments to Broadcasting Law
New regulations expanding GPB’s powers triggered controversy within the ruling Georgian Dream party.
14 Feb.'18 15:57
U.S. Intelligence on Georgia’s Foreign Threats, Domestic Politics
Office of the Director of National Intelligence published its Worldwide Threat Assessment report for 2018.
14 Feb.'18 14:34
Minister Reports on Defense Reforms to Parliament
Training programs, total defense concept and budgetary priorities among the issues listed by Levan Izoria.
14 Feb.'18 11:36
The Weekly Tripwire - Issue 26
Civil.ge’s news digest covering developments in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.
14 Feb.'18 10:56
Appellate Court Upholds Church Murder Plot Verdict
Archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze was sentenced to nine years in prison by the Tbilisi City Court.

About Civil Georgia
Civil.Ge © 2001-2018, Daily News Online
Registered office: 2 Dolidze Str, 4-th Floor.
75