Confronting Corruption

Part 1, 2, 3, 4

It's impossible to comprehend the scale of the black economy in Georgia. Far larger than the formal economy, it sucked in citizens' earnings, the state's earnings from customs and taxes, and the state's expenditure. There was robbery at every stage, and the collapse of the state not only left roads and hospitals and schools crumbling, it left citizens defenseless against crime. Much of the police force was simply in the pay of criminals.

Today, I'm traveling with the deputy governor of this province, Vasil Makherashvilli, who's personally masterminding a sting operation in a neighboring town that started off from a complaint on the hotline. I should say that Vasil isn't exactly what you'd think a deputy governor would look like. He's only 26. He comes from a non-governmental organization that specifically existed to monitor corruption. He's a very broad-shouldered young man in a standard black leather jacket and jeans.

"We suspect that the chief of police is protecting criminals," says Makherashvilli through a translator. "Today, we are going to send an ordinary citizen with a hidden camera to the office of the chief of police. We hope to get some evidence in order to arrest him."

We're arriving now in the little town where we're going to mount this operation. This is a little town of pot-holed streets, small tin-roofed houses surrounded by vines. Perhaps 300,000 people here. I've already been told 300-400 policemen. That means effectively one policeman for every 80 or 90 inhabitants. An extraordinary number that indicates very well how profitable people must think it is to become a member of the police force.

The ordinary citizen we've come to see is 63, a silver-haired old woman who lives in this small, bare, unheated flat in a filthy tenement block. She phoned the hotline over a very complicated problem that's tearing her family apart.

"My family is being destroyed because my son's mother-in-law is a drug dealer," says the woman through a translator. "This woman, she has destroyed my family. I lost my son because he became drug-addicted. She would deliver him drugs for free. My granddaughter is 17 years old and even the smaller 12-year-old are used to transport the drugs. I've called police so many times and the police are helping them actually, so I could never get them arrested."

I ask her why the police won't arrest her.

"I think they took some money from her," she says.

"What evidence do you have for that?"

"Because we were all sitting as a family together at the table. My son and his mother-in-law were talking on the telephone to a chief policeman and we could hear they would negotiate the price for a bribe."

"For a bribe? For what?"

"For a bribe to a chief policeman so he would not arrest them."

The deputy governor is taking out the secret recording equipment. What I think she's planning to do is to go confront the police chief to ask him why the drug dealer isn't arrested.

I ask, "So you think he'll admit he's protecting them?"

The woman replies, "Yeah, I'm sure he's going to say it, because he's always saying that."

Go to Part 4

©2018 American Public Media