Batumi-based private television station, Channel 25, claims authorities try to silence the only independent TV station in the Adjara Autonomous Republic by imposing “unjustified” taxes.
On October 9 the Batumi City Court rejected the TV station’s appeal and upheld a decision by the local tax service’s decision, according to which Channel 25 has to pay GEL 277,547 (about USD 166,000).
In case of a failure to pay the tax debt the law entitles the state to auction the TV station’s assets.
Merab Merkviladze, a co-owner of Channel 25 told Civil.Ge on October 15, that GEL 277,547 unpaid tax was accumulated in a period when the TV station was under the control of then Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze, who seized it from its legal owners. The owners, Merkviladze said, were only able to restore their ownership rights over the TV station in 2004 after Abashidze was ousted following the protest rallies. The TV owners dispute those taxes on the grounds that it was accumulated at the time when Channel 25 was not under their effective control.
Local opposition activists, as well as the television itself, claimed politics behind the court’s decision.
“Decision by the Batumi City Court is politically-motivated,” Murman Dumbadze, head of the opposition Republican Party’s local unit in Adjara, said. “The authorities want to close down the only independent television station in the region ahead of the [local] elections.”
Head of the local tax department, Eldar Varshalomidze, told RFE/RL Georgian service there was no politics behind the case. “Channel 25 is an ordinary taxpayer like others and if it does not pay the debt, it will be auctioned,” he said.
Channel 25 plans to appeal the Batumi City Court decision to the Court of Appeals.