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PM denies governmental involvement in Rustavi 2 case

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, October 26
Georgia’s Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, has claimed that the allegation of governmental interference in the Rustavi 2 TV channel’s case was “absolutely absurd”.

The PM stated at a Government’s meeting several days ago that the channel has become the subject of a legal dispute between its current and former owners concerning the channel’s shares.

“The former owners are stating that Georgia’s former leaders deprived them of their shares in the channel. It is a legal dispute,” the PM said.

He stressed that the opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), was trying to create a scandal and destabilise the country on the grounds that the government was attempting to close the channel.

“We will not let any side stage any provocations in the country,” Garibashvili said.

The PM also responded to the UNM’s accusations over the recent leak of sexual abuse videos on the Internet.

Garibahsvili stressed that the investigation into the issue was ongoing, and emphasised that - allegedly - members of the UNM were spreading the videos based on commercial interests.

“The videos are reflecting horrible crimes committed under the previous state leadership. Instead of asking for pardon for the terrible activities, the UNM is continuing to mislead people and stage provocations,” Garibashvili said.

The PM stated that his government had destroyed thousands of such videos and preserved only those that were necessary for the investigation.

“Such a political power [the UNM] has no moral right to stay in politics. If members of the UNM continue to stage provocations then they will get what they deserve - not only through legislation, but also from the people. The UNM failed to respect our human rights,” Garibashvili added, and excluded the possibility of any illegal surveillance and eavesdropping under the current state leadership.

The Rustavi 2 position

The Rustavi 2 leadership has stated that the government aimed to close the channel as they were critical to the Government’s activities.

The channel Director, Nika Gvaramia, stressed that the judge of the case, Tamaz Urtmelidze, was biased. He also stated that he had become a subject of blackmail from the government.

“I was told by a man affiliated to current state leaders that they had a video recording on me, as well as that my family members who are still in Georgia,” Gvaramia said.

Later, Gvaramia identified the man as Alexi Akhvlediani, who had headed the organizing committee of Tbilisi 2015, the European Youth Olympic Festival.

The Prosecutor’s Office has already questioned both Gvaramia and Akhvlediani.

Akhvlediani’s testimony only confirmed that the two had met on October 21 at Rustavi 2, but he denied that he passed on any messages from anyone.

Both said that there was no-one else attending the meeting and neither of them recorded the conversation.

Investigators have secured video footage from surveillance cameras at Rustavi 2 which displays how Akhvlediani came and left the offices of Rustavi 2.;however, the room in which they met had no cameras installed.

PM Garibashvili responded to the statement, saying that Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office is already investigating the issue.

“However, his statement also seems to be a provocation. Despite this, the relevant bodies will study the issue,” Garibashvili said.

The Prosecutor’s Office also offered protection to Gvaramia. However, he rejected the offer saying that he would send his family members abroad based on security risks.

The President’s reaction

Georgia’s President, Giorgi Margvelashvil,i has stated that Garibashvili’s statements could encourage civil confrontations in the country rather than preserve civil peace.

The President announced that he was launching discussions with the diplomatic corps and political parties over the Rustavi 2 case.

“I appeal to the judge not to make either a hasty or tough verdict,” Margvelahsvili said.

Rustavi 2 welcomed the statement, while Vice Premier Kakhi Kaladze said the President was exercising pressure on the judge. Minister of Defence Tinatin Khidasheli also dismissed the President’s statement, saying that the country’s constitutional order was never at risk.

The opposition’s position

The chief opposition party, the UNM, has stated that the closure of the channel was in the interests of the current state leadership, as Rustavi 2 was the only “impartial and influential” media outlet.

Another parliamentary minority group, the Free Democrats, stated that Rustavi 2 “has not been impartial TV”, but it was free from the government’s control. The FD also voiced their suspicion of the government’s involvement in the Rustavi 2 developments.

The former owner’s statement

The former owner of Rustavi 2 shares, Kibar Khalvashi, has stated that in the case of reinstating his power over the channel, the current staff would remain in their jobs.

“The only man I will dismiss will be Gvaramia, as he has transformed the channel into the UNM’s trumpet,” Khalvashi said.

Khalvashi, a businessman who was Rustavi 2 TV's main shareholder in 2004-2006, filed a lawsuit on August 4 of this year and, as an interim measure, also asked the court to freeze the broadcaster’s assets until the final verdict for the channel’s current owners not to sell their shares was decided.

The court accepted the appeal. The trial is still in progress.