Scandal in "Samshit Grove"; authorities and business claim the largest sanatorium in Abkhazia
Samshit Grove in Abkhazia
In the summer of 2023, the government of Abkhazia instructed the State Committee for State Property Management and Privatization to transfer the famous sanatorium “Samshit Grove” to the operational management of the State Security Service (SSS). Abkhazian businessmen renting the sanatorium learned about this from the media. Now they are trying to defend their business, and many public figures believe the ultimate goal of the authorities is simply to take it from locals and hand it to Russian investors.
The sanatorium was built in 1987, at the end of the Soviet era. Surrounded by an evergreen park, it is located on the shore of the Black Sea, seven kilometers from the center of the resort town of Pitsunda.
This year-round resort complex in Abkhazia includes a 10-storey building with 400 rooms, medical offices, swimming pools with sea water, an equipped beach, sports and children’s playgrounds.
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A quarter of a century and three major repairs
On October 31, 2023 several hundred people gathered in the Grove – representatives of the Abkhazian opposition, public and political figures, employees of the sanatorium, residents of Pitsunda, all dissatisfied with the actions of the authorities.
At the moment, the tenants of the sanatorium are entrepreneurs Dmitri Ardzinba and Gennadiy Ayba.
They say that they first rented the complex from the government in 1990. But soon the Georgian-Abkhazian war broke out and the lease agreement was terminated. They rented the sanatorium again in 1999.
“It was very difficult. There were no tourists and not even a hint that they would ever come. In 1999 we approached Vladislav Grigorievich [Ardzinba, the first president of Abkhazia – JAMnews] and asked to rent this facility. He doubted that we would manage, but we said we would try.
For three years there were no vacationers, but somehow we maintained this facility and did not let it fall apart. Gradually life began to get better, the first earnings came in, we made repairs. We made three major repairs. Apart from the walls, we changed everything,” Gennady Aiba says.
Over the past 25 years, the annual load of the sanatorium has risen from four to 85 percent. The entrepreneurs claim that they faithfully pay the rent and considerable taxes.
“For 25 years we have been working here. Couldn’t we at least be brought up to speed before deciding to hand over the facility to the SGB? We all understand perfectly well that the situation did not arise between the SGB and us. It comes from the president, his initiative, his idea,” Aiba says.
Inventory that never happened
The position of the State Security Service was presented by its deputy chairman Zaal Khvartskia in an interview with an official TV channel.
According to him, even at the construction stage, in 1987, the Grove was intended for the recuperation and rehabilitation of employees of the USSR state security agencies.
“From the end of the [Georgian-Abkhazian] war until 1999, the facility was used for accommodation of UN Mission staff. In September 1999, a 15-year lease agreement was signed with Anakopia LLC. Already at that time there were certain questions about this contract. A parliamentary commission was set up to examine the legality of the lease agreement. According to the conclusions of the commission, the Cabinet of Ministers made a hasty decision to lease the property. According to the commission, it was made without taking into account the state interests. And the agreement was drawn up with violations of the legislation in force,” Zaal Khvartskia said.
Now the property is under the management of the State Property Committee. Its chairman, Beslan Kubrava, says that in 2014 the entrepreneurs extended the contract until 2039, and when the government decided to transfer the facility to the SGB management, the State Property Committee had to comply with the necessary legal and regulatory conditions, including inventory.
The inventory was due just before October 31 and, according to Kubrava, the entrepreneurs were notified of it:
“We created a working group with the SGB. Here is a letter addressed to Gennady Aiba, where we ask to identify a person from Samshitovaya Grove LLC to conduct the inventory. No audits, no interference in their economic activities. The owner, i.e. the state, wants an inventory of their property. The group was ready to leave, but we were informed that the public had gathered there, and we decided that it was impossible to carry out such activities under such conditions,” Kubrava said.
In the same TV report, Zaal Khvartskia said that no one is going to “take anything away from anyone, let alone squeeze it away”.
According to the deputy chairman of the SGB, they have attempted to adapt contractual relations that are irrelevant today. Simply put, to increase the rent:
“Such a proposal seemed reasonable to us, as this tourist facility pays only 3.8 million rubles [about $41,000] a year to the state. Negotiations have stalled, or perhaps paused. We have not shown any initiative to terminate the contract until today.”
Khvartskia, added that the audit revealed tax law violations amounting to over 130 million rubles [about $1 million 400 thousand].
The tenants do not agree with the results of the audit and are challenging it in court.
Samshit Grove in Abkhazia
“De-sovereignization of Abkhazia.”
According to public figure Akhra Bzhania, it is not the fact of transferring the Samshit Grove to the management of the SGB that is important, but the motives driving the authorities in doing so:
“It was said that in Soviet times this place was built with the support of the KGB of the USSR. And on this basis our authorities consider it possible to transfer it to operational management of the SGB of Abkhazia. If we follow this logic, it will lead us far away… It may turn out that no matter what property you rent, tomorrow they may come to you and say: “My dear, the USSR Interior Ministry had something to do with this. Now it is the Interior Ministry of Abkhazia and we are changing our contractual relations. And then the army will come, and then the Ministry of Emergency Situations will come …
I perceive it in this way – this is an attempt to drive away Abkhazian business and Abkhazian citizens from Abkhazian assets. Why is this happening now? Because assets are growing in value. What is worth 100 dollars today will cost a thousand dollars tomorrow. But you will not be the owners of these assets. It will be other citizens. I perceive all initiatives of our government in this context – de-sovereignization of Abkhazia at all levels”.
At this point, Samshit Groveis the only major tourist site rented from the Abkhazian government by local entrepreneurs. And the chairman of the veteran organization “Aruaa”, Temur Gulia, believes that this is of fundamental importance:
“All objects have been sold, except for Samshit grove. Let’s assume that the whole country has been sold, all the best lands have been sold to foreign businessmen for the construction of commercial facilities, apartments, and so on. Let’s assume that all the best land is owned by foreigners. In case of war, God forbid, I want to ask the citizens of Abkhazia: “What will you defend if nothing belongs to you?”
MP Kan Kvarchia also spoke at the public meeting and offered assistance of the parliamentary corps in solving this controversial situation. Dmitri Ardzinba asked the MPs to initiate hearings, and maybe even launch the work of the commission on the issue of “Samshita Grove”. The deputies confirmed their readiness to do so.
Samshit Grove in Abkhazia
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