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Court of Appeal repeats Rustavi 2 owner is ex-owner

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, June 13
The verdict on one of the most influential private broadcasters in the country, Rustavi 2, was delivered on June 10. The Court of Appeals approved the previous ruling of Tbilisi City Court and declared that the only legal owner of 100 percent of the shares of the private TV company was Qibar Khalvashi, the channel’s former owner.

The Court of Appeals said 60 percent of the company shares would go to Khalvashi, while the remaining 40 percent would need to be registered under the name Panorama LTD, the company owned by Khalvashi.

After the verdict was announced, the defendant – the current owners of Rustavi 2 – said they "did not expect more” from “judges controlled by Georgia’s ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and the current Government of Georgia.”

The channel's director, Nika Gvaramia, Rustavi 2 lawyers, members of the United National Movement (UNM) and Free Democrats parties and supporters of the broadcaster under the current management repeated that the process was “politically motivated” and would harm Georgia’s image prior to the upcoming October 8 parliamentary elections, and would affect Georgia's European Union visa-liberalisation process.

Meanwhile, Minister of Energy and head of the ruling Georgian Dream Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party election staff Kakhi Kaladze stated that it was a dispute between the current and former owners of the channel and the Government had no influence in the court’s “independent verdict”.

Kaladze stressed some “bankrupt political parties” were trying to use the case to their advantage and criticise the authorities prior to the parliamentary race, with the aim “to somehow raise their low ratings”.

Kaladze stated the ongoing dispute over the media “was not in the Government’s interests”, especially in the pre-election period, but it was the decision of the former and current owners to settle the issue that time and the Government had no lever to get involved.

"Between 2004 and 2012, Rustavi 2 changed owners approximately 20 times, often in controversial deals that had a political flavor, involving people with close links to [then] president Mikheil Saakashvili and to officials of the United National Movement-led government,” read a survey published by non-governmental organisation Transparency International Georgia.

Khalvashi filed a lawsuit on August 4 2015 with the aim of “taking back his shares”.

At a press conference the next day, Khalvashi's lawyers said their client purchased the broadcasting company for $7 million USD in 2004 but was forced under strong pressure of the Saakashvili-led government and ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili to concede his property to the new owner in December 2006.

Khalvashi moved to Germany in 2009 after he was granted political asylum.

Rustavi 2 lawyers said they would appeal the Court of Appeal’s verdict in the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Department of State also responded to the verdict; according to Press-Speaker Mark Toner, the issue needs to be resolved by means of the judiciary.

“As far as I have realized, the court has upheld the verdict delivered by the previous court. Actually it means that Tblilisi Appeal court has handed over the TV to the party that presented a complaint. We know that the TV company management continues working until the trial ends,” Mark Toner has remarked.

“Media freedom, political pluralism, judiciary independence are the fundaments of democracy. Therefore we call on all those involved in the process to continue the case resolution in a judicial way,” he said.