Events of January 2008, when Georgia was grappled with street protest rallies after disputed snap presidential elections, re-emerged in the country’s political debates this month in a form of allegations flying back and forth between some opposition groups about shadowy and corrupt deals allegedly unfolding at the time behind the scenes between then opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze and president-elect Mikheil Saakashvili.
The wave of mutual accusations on the matter started on December 13 when the Georgian tabloid Asaval-Dasavali published an article, which cited an unnamed source alleging that in January, 2008 then opposition presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze demanded from Saakashvili several million for launching a bank in exchange for securing downturn of street protest rallies, which could have threatened Saakashvili’s inauguration on January 20. At the time rallies were held against January 5 election results in which Saakashvili was declared winner with Gachechiladze being a runner-up.
On December 20 it emerged that husband of Nino Burjanadze, Badri Bitsadze, who at the time was deputy interior minister and head of border police, was the source of information. The same newspaper ran an interview with Bitsadze in which he continued to accuse Gachechiladze of taking bribe from Saakashvili.
Gachechiladze dismissed the allegation as “dirty and sick campaign” against him and the Georgian Party, which he co-founded recently together with some other high-profile opposition figures. He also said that with no documented evidence the allegation remained “a gossip” and he would not engage in debate on the matter.
The President’s administration said it would not comment on these allegations. “This issue is not within the sphere of our interest,” Manana Manjgaladze, the president’s spokesperson, said on December 21.
Nino Burjanadze, ex-parliamentary speaker and now leader of opposition Democratic Movement-United Georgia party, was an acting president in January 2008; she was participating in a meeting between Saakashvili and Gachechiladze when the latter allegedly first hinted on money for launching a bank.
So far Burjanadze was refusing to comment on the allegations leveled by her husband; she broke silence on December 26 and spoke on the matter during a live interview at the public broadcaster’s weekly program Accents.
Burjanadze said that one of the first things mentioned by Gachechiladze in the beginning of the meeting with Saakashvili in January, 2008 was his “dream” to have a bank.
“I remember very well that Davit Usupashvili was so astonished by hearing this that he almost fell off his chair,” Burjanadze said referring to the leader of opposition Republican Party.
At the time Republican Party was within nine-party opposition coalition, whose presidential candidate was Levan Gachechiladze; Usupashvili was also attending that meeting with Saakashvili and Burjanadze on January 9, 2008.
Usupashvili confirmed on December 19 that Gachechiladze really mentioned an issue of bank during the meeting with Saakashvili and Burjanadze, but he stressed that the context in which Gachechiladze mentioned “bank” did not leave an impression on him that it was mentioned with a goal for seeking a potential deal on the matter.
“Gachechiladze was telling Saakashvili: ‘now it depends on us whether the country will continue forward on the peaceful path, or will slide into the abyss and civil confrontation’. He was also telling [Saakashvili] that politics was not at all a goal of his life… and that he had other dreams in the life” and that’s where he mentioned the bank, Usupashvili told the public broadcaster’s program Accents on December 19.
“I did not deem that mentioning of ‘bank’ as a real offer [by Gachechiladze to Saakashvili] to discuss that issue,” Usupashvili said. “I believe that Levan Gachechiladze did not take any decision at that time in exchange of bank or something like that. I believe in that because Gachechiladze simply could not take decisions unilaterally [in the nine-party opposition coalition, which led the street protest rallies].”
But Burjanadze said on December 26, that the fact of mentioning of bank during such an important meeting in itself implied an offer for a potential deal, which was immediately seized by Saakashvili.
“Amount of money was also mentioned, but not in a form of bargaining,” Burjanadze said. “Saakashvili of course immediately seized upon [Gachechiladze’s] ‘dream’ of having a bank and asked him how much was needed for [launching the bank] 10 or 15 million; [Gachechiladze] responded that the bank required not as much, it needed 10 or 12 million. Saakashvili stopped talking about this issue at that point because of one simple reason: Saakashvili saw astonished faces of mine and of Davit Usupashvili… Instead Saakashvili told Gachechiladze to meet next day and to continue discussing the issue … This meeting was held next day. I was not present there, but I know for sure that this meeting was held next day.”
Burjanadze said that after that separate meeting with Gachechiladze next day, Saakashvili was “very happy and he was allaying me with satisfaction that everything would be all right.”
Burjanadze also said that Vano Merabishvili, the interior minister, told her that Gachechiladze received part of the requested sum, but Burjanadze said she could not either confirm or deny these words of Merabishvili.
Burjanadze also said the evidence proving her claims “exists”. She said Saakashvili and Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, had this evidence. She, however, shunned away from responding a question whether she herself possessed this evidence.
Burjanadze indicated that she had decided to speak publicly about it after the Georgian Party and particular one of its co-founders, ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili, criticized her and spoke against the Public Gathering campaign.
“It was not me who opened fire first. It was Okruashvili who did it and did it in a very dirty way,” Burjanadze said.
“The society should know whom it can trust,” Burjanadze said and added that Gachechiladze or the Georgian Party “can not be trusted”.