Irakli Okruashvili, the ex-defense minister, said Imedi TV was “slipping from the Georgian people’s hands” as a result of the authorities’ “clandestine backstage deals” and called on the opposition to focus on the matter.
“The last bastion of democracy in Georgia – Imedi TV – has been seized from the [Patarkatsishvili] family,” Okruashvili said in a live interview from Paris on Rustavi 2 TV’s late-night political talk show, Primetime, on March 20.
He said that with Imedi TV being seized by the authorities, it was not the time for debates on whether “there are fifteen or twenty mandates more in the parliament.” “We should now focus more on that [Imedi TV],” he said.
The Georgian press reported recently that Imedi TV shares had been formally registered under the name of Patarkatsishvili’s friend, Gogi Jaoshvili. The latter, however, according to the reports, transferred his 70% ownership to Joseph Kay, alias Joseph Kakalashvili, who, according to the Georgian press, is a stepson of Patarkatsishvili’s aunt. Newspapers have claimed that the Georgian authorities are negotiating with Kay.
“The way Imedi TV has been seized is similar to how Rustavi 2 TV was,” Okruashvili said. “A year and a half ago President Saakashvili summoned Kibar Khalvashi [Okruashvili’s close friend who owned shares in Rustavi 2 and Mze TV] and told him to transfer his 75, or 80% ownership of Rustavi 2 and Mze TV stations at first to Bidzina Ivanishvili; then he changed his mind and demanded they be transferred to [Davit] Bezhuashvili [a lawmaker and brother of Gela Bezhuashvili, chief of Georgia’s intelligence service]; he then changed his mind again and eventually the shares were transferred to Saakashvili’s close associates – to the company GeoMedia.”
Rustavi 2 TV and Mze TV, according to documents submitted to the Georgian National Communication Commission, are owed by Davit Bezhuashvili’s Georgian Industrial Group and GeoMedia Group. GIG owns a 45% share of both stations. The remaining shares in both Rustavi 2 TV and Mze TV are owned by GeoMedia Group. The only information available on the company is that it is registered in the Marshal Islands.
In the interview Okruashvili said that he was willing to run in the parliamentary elections, but he also said he expected he would be prevented from doing so as the Georgian authorities were, as he put it, in a hurry to sentence him to 15 years in prison in absentia.
A Tbilisi court is expected to resume hearings into Okruashvili’s case next week. Okruashvili is charged with large-scale bribery through extortion, money laundering and negligence while serving as minister. His lawyers claim the trial is illegal as a court in Paris has yet to consider Okruashvili’s extradition case, due on April 16.
Okruashvili said in the televised interview that the court hearing in Georgia was “a political travesty.”