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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tourism Can't Compete With Kidnap Industry

TBILISI, Georgia -- It's been almost four months since Peter Shaw, a financial adviser at a European Union-sponsored bank, was kidnapped, but there's still no word on where he is or why he is being held.

Shaw, who hails from South Wales, was seized near his home in Tbilisi on June 18 by masked gunmen dressed as police officers. He was due to leave the country for good the following day and was on his way to a farewell party with friends.

Despite calls for his swift release and angry letters to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze from members of the European Parliament, Shaw remains in captivity.

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On Sunday, police called in Chechnya's representative to Georgia, Khizri Aldamov, for questioning. They wanted to know about calls to his mobile phone that may have been made by Shaw's kidnappers. It's widely believed that the kidnapping was carried out by Chechen separatists who cross the largely unpatrolled border from Russia through the Caucasus mountains and run criminal gangs all over Georgia. They're suspected of operating drug and prostitution rackets, as well as kidnapping foreign nationals and demanding huge ransoms.

Last year, two Spanish businessmen were freed after a harrowing year in captivity. They described how they had been blindfolded most of the time, beaten frequently and chained to each other by the neck. Their families caved in to the kidnappers' demands and allegedly forked out $500,000 for their release.

But progress in finding Shaw has been slow and many suspect Georgian police themselves may have had a hand in the job. Georgia is one of the poorest and most corrupt of the former Soviet republics and it's not too far fetched to imagine impoverished police officers taking backhanders from criminal groups. To date no one has been arrested for the abductions of up to a dozen foreigners in Georgia.

All of which leaves the country in a sorry state. Once billed as the new Greece, the country braced itself for a deluge of visitors. Georgia has everything for the tourist -- great food, fine wines, Black Sea resorts for the summer, ski slopes for the winter, ruined castles, thousand-year-old churches, cobbled alleys. It's a travel writer's dream destination.

Now, though, visitors are keeping away and even some of the gnarled expatriates who have been in the country for years are starting to pack up and go home.

The European Union has threatened to cut millions of dollars of financial aid to the country unless Shaw is released. But even if he is let out tomorrow, it may be too late to alter Georgia's reputation as a crime-ridden nation that would be best left well alone.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.