For over four years, we, the American investors of Iconia Capital LLC, have had our construction business halted by powerful extra-legal and corrupt influences in the Republic of Georgia. Since starting our first project in Tbilisi in 2015, we have been confronted by a small but powerful group of opponents who have sought to illegally take over our land plot in order to use it for their private interests.
This conflict, that has all but destroyed our investment in Georgia, has its origins in pressure put on the Tbilisi City Hall from our opponents. For four years we have seen it escalate into a serious, multi-year controversy that has included death threats, political intrigue, a long list of broken promises and assurances from the authorities, as well as intimidation from an ex-Supreme Court judge, harassment and threats of violence from a former Member of Parliament, defamation from a city councilman, and the illegal expropriation of our property resulting in the loss of our business.
Georgia has long been an ally of the United States and has received billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded aid since its independence from the Soviet Union. Additionally, it received military and political support from the US during the 2008 invasion of Georgia by Russia.
Despite the positive relationship between the two countries, American investors such as ourselves have suffered extreme financial losses, damages, and even threats to personal safety due to the current government’s unwillingness to uphold basic rule-of-law and protections.
Even more troubling, however, has been the Georgian government’s response to our repeated requests for help, and to our demands for them to uphold both local law and their international agreements.
In 1994, a bilateral investment treaty was signed between the US and Georgia which guarantees the rights and protections of American investors operating in Georgia. Under this international agreement, Georgia has an obligation to treat American investors fairly, if not favourably, as well as to offer security for the investors and their projects in the country.
Should these guarantees be broken by Georgia, the treaty clearly makes provisions for demanding financial compensation from Georgia via the forum of international arbitration.
From the beginning of our ordeal, Georgia has refused to honour their commitments as required under this agreement by declining to provide full security and protection for our investments or for us personally; they witnessed the expropriation of our private property, despite receiving years of registered complaints; they have denied us justice in their courts by allowing our business to be frozen for years, and without informing us of what we did wrong or how we have violated the law; and also discriminated against us by protecting our politically connected assailants while making it impossible for us to defend ourselves against their continuing legal attacks and physical confrontations.
With devastating financial damages already suffered by our investors, who risked their life savings to invest in Georgia, and with no hope of ever receiving justice or protection locally, we were forced to take a final step to protect ourselves. Therefore, on Monday, Nov. 5 2018, we officially initiated legal proceedings against the government of Georgia by submitting a Notice of Arbitration under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules. Our complaint demands full financial compensation for the loss of our project and for the four years of harassment and costs we have suffered.
Georgia, on one hand, continues to enjoy the bounty of financial aid and support from the West, while simultaneously using a portion of these funds to finance a government that is overseeing the destruction of both US and European businesses and terrorizing their owners. To make today’s situation even more malicious, the Georgian government continues to misrepresent the investment climate in the country, luring potential entrepreneurs with promises of a fair and clean business environment.
In the words of Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, Georgia is being positioned as a “leader in the fight against corruption” and a proposed “international business hub.” Along with these proclamations from political officials, the national investment agency continues to aggressively court foreign investment, particularly from the West but has been notoriously silent when confronted with ordeals like ours, which are becoming alarmingly frequent.
Let our story be a warning for American investors, or any foreign investors for that matter, who are considering investment opportunities in Georgia. Until the government and courts can show that they are able to honour their international agreements and until they prove that the rule of law has been restored, it may be wise to take your business elsewhere.