BAKU: Georgian minister complains of fuel smuggling from Azerbaijan

Georgian minister complains of fuel smuggling from Azerbaijan

Ekho, Baku
14 Apr 04

Text of M. Bagirov’s report by Azerbaijani newspaper Ekho on 14 April
headlined “Contraband from Azerbaijan may be delivered to Armenia”

Large-scale contraband of various goods, including oil products,
through the Azerbaijani-Georgian border represents a serious threat to
economic development both in Georgia and Azerbaijan, Georgian Minister
of State for Small and Medium Enterprise Jambul Bakuradze has told
Ekho. He drew attention to the fact that the main flow of contraband
goods leave Azerbaijan via the checkpoint on the Red Bridge.

The minister said that 80-90 per cent of all smuggled oil products in
Georgia come from Azerbaijan, adding that only a small amount of the
fuel arriving on the Georgian market comes with customs clearance,
most of it is brought in via the smuggling routes. The minister did
not rule out that this fuel is subsequently supplied via illegal
channels to Armenia as well. This is linked to another aspect of
contraband production.

“I do not rule out that goods which are brought from Azerbaijan by
smuggling routes, then go to Armenia through another checkpoint in
Sadakhlo [Armenian-Georgian border],” the state minister said.

Let us not forget that only a few days ago, the financial police from
the Georgian Ministry of Finance sealed up the warehouse and papers of
the Viva limited liability company engaged in oil refinery, which was
preparing to export seven 450-tonne tanks of oil to Armenia. The tax
police say that the oil is in fact a contraband cargo from Azerbaijan.

Yesterday Ekho was told by the press service of the Ministry of
Finance tax police that the investigation into the Viva affair
continues. According to a press service employee, Tei Rusitashvili,
the Armenian company Exim Petrol Group was supposed to receive the
cargo. Rusitashvili said that according to her information, the fuel
was smuggled in by rail from Azerbaijan. As for the cargo sender in
Azerbaijan, Rusitashvili noted that it was still early to talk about
this, since the investigation has just started. The press official of
the tax police of the Ministry of Finance also said that it was a long
way from being the first case of contraband fuel from Azerbaijan.

“The tax police only appeared recently and in all have been working
for one and a half months. In this time they have uncovered about 50
cases of contraband of various goods from Azerbaijan, of which
approximately half are linked to the illegal import of fuel to
Georgia,” said Rusitashvili.

In turn, Georgian Minister Jambul Bakuradze said that attempts by
officials of the appropriate bodies in Georgia to stop the entry of
contraband goods in the border area of the Red Bridge were running up
against serious counterattack from a group of smugglers operating on
both sides of the border. “Very often they play the national card,
announcing oppression by the Georgian customs,” noted the
minister. Bakuradze said that the Georgian authorities were expecting
in the next few days another breach of the border by smugglers in that

He said that there is always a long queue of cars laden with various
goods, including fuel, which “storm through the checkpoint”. “It
sometimes reaches the point of a shoot-out. There is practically a
daily skirmish,” said Bakuradze and added that the question of the
wave of criminality in the border area of the Red Bridge must be
decided as quickly as possible at a government level. The minister
regretfully announced that Azerbaijan’s interest in resolving this
problem was not yet evident and that this substantially hindered the
work of the Georgian law-enforcement bodies.

In the meantime, Bakuradze said that he had recently had the
opportunity to discuss this matter with Azerbaijani Deputy Prime
Minister Abbas Abbasov, who promised the Georgian minister to discuss
the matter in a government session.