Court adjourns Georgia TV ownership trial

Court adjourns Georgia TV ownership trial
By bne IntelliNews October 30, 2015

Recordings of two telephone conversations between former Georgian president and current governor of Odessa Region in Ukraine, Mikhail Saakashvili, and the director general of the Rustavi 2 television station, Nika Gvaramia, on the one hand, and Giga Bokeria, a leader of the United National Movement (UNM) party, on the other, were leaked on October 29.

In his conversation with Gvaramia, Saakashvili warned the television executive that the courts would rule against him in an ongoing ownership battle, and that police forces would move to seize the TV station immediately. He suggested that Gvaramia "erect barricades, literally barricade (the Rustavi 2 TV building), get supplies of water, and there should be a standoff lasting for weeks".

In a second recording, in which he was talking to Bokeria, Saakashvili advised the UNM leader that his party should provide fighters to defend the Rustavi 2 TV station. He also asked Bokeria about the foreign reaction to the case of the embattled TV station. "What are these idiot foreigners doing?"

Recounting his advice to Gvaramia, Saakashvili told Bokeria that he had advised the TV executive that "shooting may erupt" and that they needed to be ready for that. "Physical confrontation is needed now, we should show that we are capable of that. We are worthless if we are not. We won't be able to draw attention to us through other means," he said, according to the recording.

On October 22, Georgia's special security forces launched an investigation into the recordings, alleging that they were an attempt to overthrow the government. The founder of the UNM party, Saakashvili is wanted in Georgia, where the Georgian Dream government has brought multiple criminal charges against him. After supporting the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, Saakashvili was appointed governor of Odessa Region by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and granted Ukrainian citizenship.

Reacting to the leaked recordings, Saakashvili wrote in a Facebook post that he was merely "defending the last fortress of free speech" in Georgia, and that no-one should be surprised that he called for physical struggle to achieve that. Gvaramia confirmed the authenticity of the recording, but said he did not follow Saakashvili's advice and did not agree with it. Bokeria said that the opinions voiced during the private conversation were no secret, because the UNM had been complaining about the ruling party's attempt to stifle freedom of speech publicly as well. All three accused the government of illegally intercepting private telephone conversations.

"We understand very well that [Georgian Dream party founder and billionaire businessman Bidzina] Ivanishvili has decided to clear the field ahead of the elections because he knows that he will fail to maintain power even in the condition of minimal democratic elections… Our purpose is to keep the processes within the constitutional framework and kick out Ivanishvili’s regime from the country in 2016 elections, but it won’t happen at the expense of doing nothing and not resisting attempts to forcibly take over Rustavi 2 TV," Bokeria told Georgian media.

Meanwhile, a court hearing on October 29 to settle the ownership battle over Rustavi 2 TV was adjourned and postponed until October 30. The lawyers of the defendant, Rustavi 2 TV, asked the judge for more time to revise reports about the television station's valuation, which the plaintiff had submitted.

The plaintiff is the former majority shareholder of Rustavi 2 TV, Kibar Kvalvashi, who sued the station and its current owners, claiming that he had been forced to sell the company at below the market value by the former Saakashvili administration.