After preliminarily hearings in late December, the Tbilisi City Court launched a full-scale trial on January 4 into the case of two Israeli businessmen charged with offering a bribe to the Georgian Deputy Finance Minister.
Ron Fuchs, who has a long-standing multi-million dispute with Georgia, and his associate Zeev Frenkiel, were arrested by the Georgian law enforcement officers in Georgia’s Black Sea town of Batumi on October 14, while meeting with Georgian Deputy Finance Minister Avtandil Kharaidze.
According to the Georgian prosecutors Ron Fuchs and his Greek partner from company, Tramex, Ioannis Kardassopoulos, with the assistance of Zeev Frenkiel were trying to bribe the Georgian Deputy Finance Minister, offering him in exchange “to convince the Georgian government” not to challenge a decision of an international arbitration, which in early 2010 awarded Fuchs and Kardassopoulos to total of USD 98.1 million to be paid by the Georgian state in a dispute, which started back in 1996.
The January 4 hearing was mainly dedicated to formalities, during which judge informed the defendants through interpreter about their rights during the trial.
The two defendants told the judge, that they pleaded not guilty.
Upon the defense lawyer’s request the trial was adjourned till January 11. Defendants’ lawyer Archil Kbilashvili cited that his clients required more time for looking into the 489-page prosecution’s case against them. The defense lawyer was requesting one-month period, but the judge agreed to adjourn the hearing for a week.
During the preliminary hearings, held in two sessions on December 23 and December 24, the defense lawyer filed a motion requesting to exclude one of the key evidence of the prosecution, involving a secretly recorded video footage of a meeting between Fuchs and the Georgian Deputy Finance Minister in Istanbul hotel on September 15, 2010. The footage, portions of which were made public through local television stations after the two businessmen were arrested, shows the two men discussing how to settle multi-million dispute.
The defense lawyer was demanding excluding this evidence from the case citing that the footage was made illegally. The prosecution claimed that video was covertly recorded by Kharaidze himself and not by the Georgian law enforcement agencies; the footage, according to the prosecution, was then handed over by Kharaidze to the investigators. The defense lawyer’s argument was that at the time when Kharaidze made the recording he required authorization of the law enforcement agencies; but prosecutors were arguing that the new criminal procedure code, which went into force from October, 2010, was allowing using secretly recorded footage made by an individual without law enforcement agencies’ authorization as evidence.
The judge rejected the defense lawyer’s motion and the evidence was not excluded from the case, which also involves another covertly recorded video – the one made during the meeting between Fuchs and Kharaidze in Batumi in October, during which the two Israeli businessmen were arrested.
During the preliminary hearings the defense lawyer also filed a motion to summon and question during the full-scale trial as a witness Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri. The defense has a letter, which it says, was sent by the Georgian PM to Fuchs inviting him in Georgia to settle the multi-million dispute. The defense says that Fuchs arrived in Batumi in October, when he was arrested, based on that letter to negotiate terms of settlement. The defense lawyer’s motion on questioning the PM as a witness was rejected on the grounds that it was filed through procedural violations.
During the preliminary hearings, the defense lawyer also requested the judge to release the two defendants on GEL 10,000 bail each, citing their health problems; but the motion was rejected, as the prosecutors argued that the defendants could have left the country after the release on bail.