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The shared history of President Ankvab and former Interior Minister Leonid Dzapshba, now prosecuted for corruption

Last month, Leonid Dzapshba was indicted for corruption. The charges relate to his Chairmanship of the Abkhazian Football Federation, but Dzapshba is better known as the previous Interior Minister of Abkhazia. The indictment has caused some rumour because Dzapshba defended himself, first in an interview with Nuzhnaya and then through a press conference, where he was supported by family members, and perhaps more notably, Sergei Shamba, who was Prime Minister at the relevant time, and which in turn triggered a response by the General Prosecutor’s Office.

The details of the affair are a bit confused. Dzapshba is accused of abusing 7 million ruble of Football Federation funds, buying cars for himself and his family and going on trips abroad, ostensibly to bring the cause of Abkhazian football to the likes of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. Dzapshba says that he did in fact meet them, as evidenced by a thank you letter by President Bagapsh, and that the 7 million ruble deficit arose in the construction of football pitches, that he had received permission from President Bagapsh to this amount using government funds, but that this became impossible following Bagapsh’s unexpected death.

Dzapshba claims the charges are politically motivated. It is true that President Ankvab apparently did not get along with Dzapshba. Ankvab of course denies that he himself is involved, and the prosecutor’s office claims that the case was initiated by the new management of the Football Federation.

It seems unlikely that the charges are completely made up, because Dzapshba is not exactly a powerful or popular politician that Ankvab must get rid of. After Dzapshba’s appointment by President Bagapsh, some of his initial actions triggered enthusiasm, but this quickly died down, and the decision by President Ankvab not to reappoint him after his election was generally received positively, even if he was replaced by his perhaps equally unpopular predecessor. And his financial legacy at the Interior Ministry is apparently also controversial.

The prosecution of Dzapshba has also been criticised for the fact that while he himself may not be clean, members of the current government are not equally targeted. But the fight against corruption has to start somewhere. The prosecution of former officials can in the long run have a positive effect on sitting government members, if they realise that their current actions may have consequences once they are out of power.

If Ankvab is in some way pushing Dzapshba’s prosecution, the affair is ironic given the fact that Dzapshba can be said to have given Ankvab’s career a decisive push all the way back in 1992, during the height of the Georgian-Abkhazian ‘war of the laws’, before the actual war broke out. On the 8th of May that year, the new convocation of the Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia appointed a number of Ministers, including Alexander Ankvab on Internal Affairs. There was a problem though, because the previous Minister, the Georgian Givi Lominadze, refused to leave, backed by the Georgian Interior Ministy. This situation was only resolved on 24 June, when a group of officials forcefully evicted Lominadze from the Ministry. Among these officials was Leonid Dzapshba.

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