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“Borjomi” might become available to Russians again…17.02.2009 | 09:37
While the head of the Russian consumer rights oversight agency (Rospotrebnadzor) Gennady Onishchenko decides between his love for Georgian mineral water and the responsibilities of his position, the "Borjomi" spring in Georgia might come under new ownership. In a few days time, an auction will be announced for the sale of the licence concerned. The agreement with the "Georgian Glass and Mineral Water Company" has expired. Moreover, a change of owners may take place within the holding itself.
On 11 February, Gennady Onishchenko declared at a press conference, as RIA Novosti reported, that he would not object to supplies of "Borjomi" being made to Russia if the water meets his organization's sanitary standards. But, according to him, the manufacturers are not offering to provide him with a sample of their water for research to be carried out in order to authorize its sale. "As far as the water is concerned, I am still saying that I regret the loss of "Borjomi" and that if we "open up" Georgia, we will start with "Borjomi", especially considering my class hatred of spirits," Russia's chief sanitary doctor explained with a smile.
Georgian mineral water was banned in Russia, along with wines, in spring 2006. However, whereas heavy metals and pesticides were found in the alcoholic drinks, the complaints against "Borjomi" were based only there being insufficient protection against fake water that had flooded Russia.
Incidentally, as far as the wine is concerned, Onishchenko made an announcement about the letters and samples of produce received by Rospotrebnadzor from the specific manufacturers and the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture. "We have just prepared a reply to them saying that, in principle, this issue has not been closed and that we would be prepared to examine it again under certain conditions," he noted. The Georgian media have entirely mistranslated Onishchenko's statement. Giving the impression that he has actually already sent a letter to the Georgian winemakers. And, for example, "Business Georgia", having asked the republic's Ministry of Agriculture to confirm this, ran into bewilderment, which it reported: "The Georgian Ministry of Agriculture has no information about the Russian chief sanitary doctor having sent a letter to Georgian winemakers". Even though (see above) the head of Rospotrebnadzor was talking about letters that he had received.
Onishchenko's statement about "Borjomi" was viewed strangely and with emphatic mistrust by the same publication. "It's hard to believe that this (the return of the water to Russia) could happen, because not a single promise has been fulfilled by the Russian side in the last few years," comments "Business Georgia". Admittedly, the Georgian manufacturers have also not yet done anything to protect the popular brand of mineral water against fakes.
So will Russians see "Borjomi" in their shops in the near future? I fear not.
As is well-known, not too long ago the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline passing through the Borjomi Gorge, where the famous springs are located, got up and running. The Georgian Glass and Mineral Water Company (GGMW), which has exclusive rights to the extraction and bottling of "Borjomi", has spoken out against the construction of the oil pipeline in conservation areas. "After the launch of the BTC pipeline, all it would need is for there to be a slight oil leak, and the mineral water would lose its attractiveness," noted the site "AkvaExpert". And, it should be added, any such incident would result in further bans by Rospotrebnadzor.
On 12 February, the website "Business Georgia" learnt that an auction will soon be announced for the sale of the licence for extracting the mineral water for the next 25 years. The agreement with GG & MW expired in 2007, and since then it has been extended every 6 months. The Georgian authorities might have refused to extend it this time for two reasons: because of a severe shortage of budgetary funds or the position of the GG&MW owners concerning the construction of the oil pipeline, which is awkward for the government. The latter seems to have been the case on this occasion.
Apparently for this reason, so the media report, the Georgian leadership has even made an attempt to replace the owners of the company. One of them was the businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili. Following his death, his shares passed over to his widow Inna Gudavadze. A further 50 percent of the securities remain as property of the company "Salford Georgia". Its head Irakli Rukhadze made a sensational statement in an interview with the newspaper "Mtel Kvirastan", which was quoted by Kommersant.ge. Apparently the mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava and the Defence Minister David Kazerashvili demanded that he and Inna Gudavadze hand over the "Borjomi" extraction company to the manager of the famous "Wimm Bill Dann" holding company David Yakobashvili.
In this situation where the future of the Borjomi source itself and of the extraction and bottling company are so obscure, it is too early to talk about many people's favourite mineral water returning to Russian markets.