Leaked property data shows that Anton Obolashvili, a member of parliament with the ruling Georgia Dream party, failed to list his luxury assets in Dubai in his annual asset declarations. He attributed the omission to “human error.”
In 2020, Anton Obolashvili, a wealthy Georgian businessman, was elected to parliament with the country’s ruling Georgian Dream party.
Having worked briefly at the country’s Internal Affairs Ministry in the late 90s, Obolashvili, then 46, had left the government and made a fortune in the pharmaceutical business. After he was elected, he relinquished control over his shares in several companies, as required by law, and transferred them to his wife.
As a public servant, Obolashvili was now obligated to fill out annual asset declarations.
In 2021, his declared annual income of almost $450,000, which includes revenues from several businesses, was one of the highest in parliament. His declared assets included luxury watches and his wife’s Porsche Cayenne. But reporters from Studio Monitori, an OCCRP member center in Georgia, have discovered that Obolashvili didn’t disclose everything.
Leaked property data from Dubai shows that, since becoming a member of parliament, he has never declared two luxury apartments he owns in the United Arab Emirates, together worth over $1.2 million. He also failed to declare the rent he received from one of the properties.
This is a violation of Georgian law, which requires officials to declare their real estate holdings and income, as well as those of their family members, or face fines. The leaked data, which dates from 2020, was obtained by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C.
When asked by a Studio Monitori reporter about the undeclared properties in Dubai, Obolashvili initially seemed surprised. “Aren’t they declared?” he asked.
In a subsequent email, Obolashvili told OCCRP that he owned the properties, earned income from them, and that they were never declared.
Anton Obolashvili speaks to reporters at Georgia’s parliament building.
“My declaration is filled out by a group of lawyers, and then it is reviewed by me,” he wrote. “I became aware of this issue through Studio Monitor [sic], and I must admit that I was surprised to discover the omission of my owned properties. Afterward, I consulted with the lawyers, and indeed, the declaration does not include any mention of my properties. The reason for this oversight is simply human error, and there is no suspicious intent behind it.”
Obolashvili volunteered the value of his undeclared properties, which are in line with reporters’ estimates, and promised to include them in next year’s declaration.
One of Obolashvili’s properties is a two-bedroom apartment worth over $440,000 on the 56th floor of Elite Residence, a supertall skyscraper. Information obtained by reporters shows that Obolashvili earned rental income on the property. In his email, he confirmed that he is renting it out for over $20,000 per year.
The Elite Residence is located in the Dubai Marina district, overlooking Palm Jumeirah — a notoriously expensive man-made island — where Obolashvili also owns another one-bedroom apartment.
This property, worth over $760,000, is located on the second floor of Kempinski Hotel & Residences Palm Jumeirah, a palace-style resort, with a private beach, four restaurants and bars, and an outdoor pool.
In addition, even though Obolashvili declared an apartment he and his wife co-own in Paris, reporters found that he never declared a parking space he purchased there for 58,000 euros in 2019.
Dubai’s Elite Residence, where Anton Obolashvili owns a two-bedroom flat.
In 2017, Georgia adopted a mechanism for monitoring public officials’ asset declarations, which requires them to disclose their assets and finances, as well as names of family members and people living with them, on an annual basis. Previously, they had not been subject to any verification.
Obolashvili’s declarations have never been verified by Georgian authorities before — no more than 10 percent of the total number of declarations are selected for verification annually — but he has been selected for verification this year, information from Georgia’s Civil Service Bureau shows.
The monitoring mechanism has apparently had limited success in combating corruption. The Civil Service Bureau does not have the resources to check what a person owns abroad.
“Here we depend only on the person’s good faith,” said Alexander Kevkhishvili, project manager at Transparency International Georgia. “If it turns out a person has property in Dubai but did not write it in their declaration, that is enough reason to start an investigation and the prosecutor’s office will look into it.”
The problem extends beyond Obolashvili. Over half of the 346 declarations that the Civil Service Bureau verified last year failed to declare or incorrectly declared their family members and their assets, according to a report by Transparency International.
Fines were imposed on 136 of the officials who submitted these declarations, while the others were given a warning, the report said. None of the cases were sent to the prosecutor’s office that year, it said. (Only 11 have been sent to the prosecutors since monitoring started in 2017.)
In response to reporters’ questions, the Civil Service Bureau said that they check real estate abroad “through exchange of information with international partners, as well as on the basis of information received from open sources.” The bureau also said the system has been steadily improving.
But there is little deterrent to submitting an incomplete declaration. The penalty is a one-time fine, reaching up to 20 percent of the official’s monthly salary, or a minimum of 500 Georgian Lari – about $195. “They pay one time and that’s it, they fulfilled their obligation,” said Kevkhishvili.
July 8, 2023 Published by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.