Director of only cell provider in South Ossetia arrested while on ‘illegal treasure hunt’
The head of South Ossetia’s only cellphone service provider has been caught red handed in an ‘illegal treasure hunt’ – local law enforcement officers say he and his wife were searching for objects of historical and archaeological value on church and cemetery grounds in the villages of Dzau district with a metal detector.
The case has outraged many local residents, and an investigation is underway. Director of Megafon – South Ossetia Roman Kovriga and his wife face six years in prison or a 1 million ruble fine if convicted, but many doubt that the influential businessman will be punished.
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Amiran Dyakonov, chairman of the parliamentary committee on national politics, culture, religion and the media, called on the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to actively protect the national heritage of the republic.
MP Dyakonov says that physical damage had been wrought on areas of cultural and historical significance that are protected by the state register of monuments.
The director of Megafon South Ossetia Roman Kovriga and the president of South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov. Photo: alaniainform.org
Kovriga’s act enraged residents. Some demand that he be “expelled from the republic”, “arrested” and even “shot”, while others have taken the opportunity to remind the director that the company provides unsatisfactory services: high prices, constant interruptions and a weak internet connection.
“This is a blatant unpleasant fact, such news is disgusting. It’s unforgivable that someone encroached on the cultural heritage, tried to use our history for the sake of personal enrichment,” resident of Tskhinval Elvira Bagaev says.
Kovriga himself does not comment on the charges. He and his wife have agreed not to leave the republic.
“Roman Kovriga is likely to avoid serious punishment, since he is an influential figure and will try to avoid criminal liability,” said Roland Kelekhsaev, former MP of the South Ossetian parliament, adding “until the law in the republic works the same for everyone, none of the powerful will be punished.”
Former law enforcement officer Alan Ikaev is skeptical about the chances of law enforcement officers to arrest Kovriga, even if his guilt is proved.
“The investigation is ongoing. So far, no charges have been brought against him. If the suspects are charged, it is not yet ruled out that the prosecution could even be re-qualified for vandalism, which is a lighter charge than embezzlement of artifacts. It all depends on the investigation and justice.”
The issue of instituting criminal or administrative proceedings against the spouse of Kovriga is the prerogative of the investigating authorities. The most serious article under which charges can be brought is for the illegal search and seizure of archaeological objects.