Who is punished for corruption in Abkhazia? Details of the scandalous case
Bondo Achba case and corruption in Abkhazia
An unusual incident occurred in Abkhazia as for the first time, a major official was imprisoned for corruption. Society continues to discuss whether the investigation might have spared the main individuals involved in the case and many believe that the stolen money was used to fund pro-government election campaign.
On May 5, the head of the Abkhazavtodor company, Boris (Bondo) Achba, was sentenced to seven years in prison and confiscation of property for the embezzlement of 20 million rubles [approximately $270,000] allocated for the repair of bridges.
Bondo (Achba’s real name is Boris but he was referred to as Bondo in the materials of the criminal case) is 65 years old. He has a degree in road construction engineering and for most of his life, he was working in the civil sector. Achba is a veteran of the Georgian-Abkhaz war of the early 1990s, for which he was awarded the medal “For Courage”, and a father of two.
An audit of the administration of the capital, where Achba worked at that time, revealed embezzlements worth 24 million rubles [approximately $320,000]. He was even detained, along with another colleague from the mayor’s office, Konstantin Tuzhba. Back then, the case ended with a suspended sentence.
In 2016, Achba was appointed head of the state-owned company Abkhazavtodor. Two years before that, he worked there as a deputy.
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What was Achba charged with?
The case against Bondo Achba was initiated in June 2020 under the article on fraud – embezzlement of someone else’s property by deception.
According to the investigation, in February 2017, Achba addressed the then President of Abkhazia Raul Khadzhimba with a letter, in which he introduced false information about the need to eliminate the consequences of the natural disaster. The reason was the floods that allegedly took place in October-November 2016 and in January-February 2017 in the Gudauta region at the mouths of the Hipsta and Aapsta rivers.
In order to convince to allocate funds from the president’s fund, and most importantly to receive them, the investigation believes, Bondo Achba drew up a forged contract and design estimates, allegedly for the implementation of necessary repair work in the amount of 20 million rubles [about $ 270,000].
Then he entered into an agreement with a company, the founder of which is a fictitious person, and transferred the indicated amount. Then, forged documents were drawn up on the performance of work, and the funds were withdrawn from the account of this company.
Prosecution arguments and defense objections
The consideration of the case began in December 2020. Ex-President Raul Khajimba appeared as a witness.
The defendant’s lawyer Inga Gabilaya insisted on the complete innocence of Boris Achba. She argued that the work had been carried out, for which there are supporting documents. The evidence included the testimony of Achba, the questioning of the ex-president and the court’s refusal to conduct an examination of the state of the objects and rivers named in the documents.
Ex-President Raul Khajimba supported all of the defense’s claims. He said that residents of local villages had indeed complained about the situation at the mouths of the rivers, and he had seen the results of the work with his own eyes, and he had no doubts about the decency of Bondo Achba.
The prosecution, however, argued that no work was carried out. The residents of the villages of Aapsta and Hipsta, who do not remember any problems with the bridges, as well as any work being carried out, acted as witnesses.
Moreover, the prosecution asserted that the very company “Yugstroykomplekt” with which “Abkhazavtodor” signed a contract for the performance of work is a semi-mythical organization. Its founder, a Russian citizen by the name of Filimonov, could not be found. His passport turned out to be forged, such a person never crossed the border.
However, Achba’s lawyer insisted that the fictitiousness of the documents on the work carried out had not been proven. The “Yugstroykomplekt” company has been working in Abkhazia since 2014 and has completed several construction contracts without any complaints.
In addition, since the investigation failed to establish the identity of the founder, Filimonov, it means that the fact of the conspiracy has not been proven either, Gabilaya argued.
Bondo Achba himself completely denied his guilt and insisted that the whole process was a political reprisal.
He was sentenced to seven years, and this is one and a half years less than the prosecutor’s office requested. Gabilai’s lawyer immediately announced that she would appeal this decision.
Embezzlement to cover election costs?
Many versions are being discussed in society, but only the court believes that Bondo Achba single-handedly stole 20 million rubles from the presidential fund.
A completely different version is being discussed in coffee shops and local kitchens.
In March 2017, a month after the infamous letter from Achba to Khajimba about the need to repair bridges, parliamentary elections were held in Abkhazia.
As always, before the elections, the authorities became more active and earned support from the population: old poles were changed, bridges were built or restored, roads were repaired, and somewhere they even bought televisions and washing machines.
According to the popular version in society, money from the presidential fund was used precisely for the election campaign of the pro-government candidates at that time. Bondo himself, according to the popular belief of the citizens of Sukhumi, received only 3% of the total amount.
Whether this is an urban legend or an alternative version of events based on it, is not yet clear.
As I starting to write this article, I wanted to get a comment from the convicted Achba himself. I requested a comment from him via his lawyer and Bondo Achba agreed to meet me and talk about what happened, what he thought and felt about it.
However, the meeting never took place. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that a special regime is in effect on the territory of the prison due to the pandemic. All visits were canceled, except with lawyers in urgent circumstances.
As soon as the epidemiological situation improves, Bondo Achba will definitely have the opportunity to speak out, if, of course, he still wants to.
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