Presidential candidate and business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili has confirmed that he met with a top Interior Ministry official and offered him “a huge amount of money” in exchange for defecting from the authorities. He denied, however, that the bribe was in connection to an alleged coup plot and claimed instead that his intention was to uncover what he said were official plans to rig the election.
Patarkatsishvili was speaking in a recorded video message, apparently meant for Imedi TV staff. The recording, however, was, surprisingly, first aired by Rustavi 2 TV late on December 25. Rustavi 2 TV said that it had intercepted the footage when it was being transmitted via satellite.
The video address came after the General Prosecutor’s Office released earlier on the same evening a covertly recorded audio tape of a conversation that purportedly took place between Irakli Kodua, head of Special Operations Department (SOD) of the Interior Ministry, and Patarkatsishvili in the latter’s mansion in Britain on December 23.
The previous day the General Prosecutor’s Office released two other covertly recorded video conversations between MP Valeri Gelbakhiani, Patarkatsishvili’s campaign spokesman, and Irakli Kodua. The two met in Tbilisi on December 18 and on December 21.
All the recordings have been presented by the General Prosecutor’s Office as evidence in support of its contention that a coup had been planned for after the January 5 presidential election. Gelbakhiani has been declared as an official suspect in an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government.
In the beginning of his video address Patarkatsishvili thanks Imedi staff for “providing true information about developments in the country.”
“I also want to tell you: do not be afraid of anything, we will definitely be able to change this government and the Georgian people will have a democratic government and it does not matter who it will be: Badri Patarkatsishvili, Levan Gachechiladze [presidential candidate backed by the nine-party opposition coalition] or Davit Gamkrelidze [leader of New Rights Party and presidential candidate]. The most important thing for me is to see this regime and its criminal methods gone,” Patarkatsishvili said.
He then thanked News Corp. for taking over the management of Imedi TV “in this very difficult time. I am absolutely sure that this company will do its best to protect freedom of speech.”
Patarkatsishvili claimed that the authorities had opposed him because of Imedi TV’s “true word.” He then recalled that he had been on good terms with the authorities, but “everything has changed since the death” of PM Zurab Zhvania in February, 2005. Patarkatsishvili also said that he had even agreed to hand over ownership of Mze TV after then President Saakashvili asked him to. He has also claimed that the authorities had offered him USD 1 billion for Imedi TV, but “I said Imedi was not for sale.”
Patarkatsishvili told Imedi staff that recently he had observed, what he called, “self-restraint” among Imedi journalists. “I want to advice you: be as free as you have always been and do not restrain yourself, do not be afraid of the authorities,” Patarkatsishvili said.
He also dismissed the recent audio and video tapes released by the Georgian authorities, saying their purpose was to overshadow his own allegation that the authorities had planned to kill him.
“Valery Gelbakhiani informed me that he had met with Irakli Kodua who told him that he had been instructed by the authorities to bring two truck loads of fake ballot papers to stuff ballot boxes,” Patarkatsishvili said. “Gelbakhiani also told me that Kodua was ready to publicly reveal this information in exchange for a huge amount of money. Of course, I was guessing that it was just a stunt, but if there was even a 1% chance that it was true, I had to use it because by doing so I could help to avert major confrontation. So I agreed to pay the money in exchange for that information.”
The audio tape, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office made by Kodua in cooperation with Georgian law enforcement agencies, also has Kodua asking for USD 100 million in exchange for “neutralizing” the interior minister, Vano Merabishvili.
“We started to talk about how he could help us,” Patarkatsishvili continued. “So he [Kodua] told me that he controlled 7,000 of the 10,000 people in the Interior Ministry, including two special purpose units; it means 70% of the entire Interior Ministry forces, which was capable of confronting the people [after ballot-rigging]. My offer was aimed at neutralizing these people and creating conditions for them to side with the people. So I was ready to pay a serious amount of money to Kodua. And he had a chance to become a hero by revealing information confirming the authorities’ intention to rig the elections.”
Patarkatsishvili’s statement was immediately picked up by ruling part officials, who said that the tycoon’s remarks amounted to “a guilty plea” in relation to the coup allegations. “He has actually confirmed what we have been saying,” MP Givi Targamadze, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for defense and security, said.