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The murky struggle for Imedi ownership

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Friday, March 21
When prominent Georgian billionaire and founder of Imedi TV Badri Patarkatsishvili died suddenly last month, former Imedi anchor Giorgi Targamadze commented the television station’s future is “even more unclear than it was before.” Developments since then have proved his prediction correct.

The embattled television station found itself at the center of controversy when the authorities shut it down during the November 7 crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

It returned to air the following month after international pressure on the government to restore its broadcast license, only for it to voluntarily suspend broadcasts on December 26 after the government accused Patarkatsishvili, who ran for president, of plotting its overthrow.

Since the businessman’s death, his immediate family have claimed ownership rights for the Imedi media group, which includes a radio station—but so has a mysterious figure who uses the names Joseph Kay and Ioseb Kakiashvili, and claims to be the stepson of Patarkatsishvili’s aunt.

This week Patarkatsishvili’s widow, Ina Gudavadze, met with government officials, yet her visit has done little to clarify the situation.

“Imedi [TV] is not on air because the government does not want it to be,” Gudavadze said in a letter addressed to the Georgian people on March 19, adding, “In order to avoid straining the current situation I have been trying to reach a compromise with the authorities…however I have not received any answer from them.”

She also claimed that “imposters” have been trying to transfer the ownership rights of the station to the government. “But they don’t have the right to do this, because the real owners of Imedi are me and my family,” she said.

However, Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze, while confirming she had met Gudavadze, denied they discussed Imedi issues and said any debate over the station’s ownership was amongst Patarkatsishvili’s family members.

“As far as I know this is a disagreement within the family that should be solved by lawyers. Nobody can take anything from them,” she said.

Meanwhile Nana Patarkatsishvili, sister of the businessman, told the newspaper Alia that ownership rights have already been transferred to Joseph Kay, the mysterious self-declared relative, who in turn has passed them on to another individual whose name is not known.

“All this happened without informing my brother’s family,” she said.

Shalva Khachapuridze, formerly Patarkatsishvili’s legal representation in Georgia, said that Kay arrived in Tbilisi shortly after his client’s death and entered into negotiations with authorities about selling Imedi.

“When he arrived here, we received information that he was holding negotiations with the government about selling Imedi, however he does not have any right to do this as he isn’t the real owner of the company,”Khachapuridze said.

The television station itself has a different story. Speaking to the newspaper yesterday, Imedi director general Bidzina Baratashvili said it is business as usual at the channel, despite still being off-air, and that Imedi staff consider Patarkatsishvili’s family to be its rightful owners.

“Badri was the television company’s owner and we appreciated him, and now it is his family who has the right to manage it,” he said, adding that he did not know who Joseph Kay is, nor what connection he has to the station.

Opposition coalition representative Goga Khaindrava told reporters this week that a protest demanding Imedi’s return to air will be held outside parliament on March 24.

“This is robbery that [President Mikheil] Saakashvili has always taken part in along with [Interior Minister Vano] Merabishvili—they are robbing women and society will give an adequate response on March 24,” he promised.