Several top officials have resigned from the National Bank of Georgia (NBG) following a controversial decision to unfreeze assets tied to former Prosecutor General Otar Partskhaladze, who is closely linked to the billionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili. This move by the NBG has raised concerns about its commitment to observe international sanctions imposed by the United States.
Three out of four NBG vice presidents, Papuna Lezhava, Archil Mestvrishvili, and Nikoloz Gagua, as well as Giorgi Bakradze, an advisor to the NBG president, have submitted their resignations. Their decision was prompted by the bank's decision to shield Georgian citizens, including Partskhaladze, from international sanctions until a verdict is reached by a Georgian court.
Mestvrishvili, expressing his discontent, stated, "I cannot be a part of a decision that I neither have influence over nor agree with."
This decision by the NBG has been widely perceived as an attempt to protect Partskhaladze, who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for his alleged collaboration with Russia's FSB and efforts to channel Russian influence.
President Salome Zurabishvili criticised the NBG's actions during a press briefing, highlighting the perceived pressure exerted by ruling party chairman Irakli Kobakhidze on NBG's acting President Natia Turnava. Zurabishvili called on Turnava to resign and urged the NBG board to revoke her unilateral decision to alter the regulations. The president emphasised the importance of preserving Georgia's reputation and economic stability.
Turnava, a former economy minister, was appointed as the acting president of the bank in June, raising concerns in international organisations about the bank's independence as she held political positions before.
Several major Georgian commercial banks, including TBC and Bank of Georgia, reaffirmed their commitment to adhere to international sanctions imposed by the EU, the UK, and the U.S., regardless of the NBG's decision. They stated that they would not grant exceptions to individuals under international sanctions.
The National Bank of Georgia argued that Georgian citizens are protected by the constitution, asserting that individuals cannot be subjected to international sanctions without a conviction by a Georgian court.
The NBG's controversial decision has sparked public protests and raised questions about its role in upholding international sanctions and the rule of law in Georgia. After growing protests, the Ministry of Justice of Georgia announced its intention to revoke Otar Partskhaladze's Georgian citizenship.
The U.S. State Department expressed concern over the NBG's decision to reverse its stance on Partskhaladze and warned of possible sanctions for individuals conducting transactions with him. The State Department emphasised the importance of an independent national bank as a cornerstone of a healthy economy and democracy in any country.