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PM not Relevant Witness to be Questioned into Israeli Businessmen Bribery Case - Judge Says
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 12 Jan.'11 / 14:57

Judge into trial over two Israeli businessmen’s bribery case rejected again a motion by the defense at a hearing on January 11 to summon and question as witnesses Georgian PM Nika Gilauri and other senior officials.

Defense team of Ron Fuchs, who has a long-standing multi-million dispute with Georgia, and his associate Zeev Frenkiel – the two Israeli businessmen arrested in October in Batumi, Georgia and charged with offering a bribe to Georgian Deputy Finance Minister Avtandil Kharaidze – is trying to put focus on a letter, which the defense says, was sent to Fuchs by PM Gilauri inviting him to Batumi to settle the USD 98.1 million dispute, which the international arbitration ruled in favor of Fuchs early last year.

The defense claims that this “official invitation” sent by PM Gilauri was part of “the plot” by the Georgian authorities to lure Fuchs into Georgia under the pretext of finalizing deal on multi-million dispute so that in fact to arrest him on “fabricated charges” in order to force him reject the sum he and his Greek business partner, Ioannis Kardassopoulos, were awarded by the international arbitration.

Gregory Craig, who was President Barack Obama’s White House counsel from January 2009 through January 2010, is providing counsel to Ron Fuchs' legal team. Craig, who has represented numerous high-profile clients and led the team defending President Clinton against impeachment, now is in private practice at U.S. law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Craig, who was in Tbilisi told Civil.ge on January 11, it was “shocking” that the head of the government and his official invitation was used by the law enforcement agencies to lure Fuchs into Georgia to then put him into jail. He said criminal proceedings against the businessmen on false charges in response to losing a case at the international arbitration would “undermine Georgia’s reputation.”
Convicting Fuchs to a jail term with the government still having to pay the sum lost in the international arbitration would be a “lose-lose situation”, he said, adding that instead a win-win solution should be found somewhere in between.

“But at the moment I am not hopeful,” Craig said.

Gornitzky & Co, the Israeli law firm, representing Fuchs, said in a statement released on January 12, that Fuchs “is little better than a hostage.”

The authorities strongly deny link between the criminal proceedings against the two Israeli businessmen and the multi-million dispute. The prosecution says it has a strong case against the two men and it is purely about bribery.

"The media and the family of these men have tried to shift the whole thing in a political direction, saying Georgia doesn't want to pay the settlement [by the international arbitration] and that's why they got arrested.  That is not true.  This is a standard bribery case," Davit Sakvarelidze, Georgia's first deputy chief prosecutor told Fox News, which ran a story about the case on January 11.
Archil Kbilashvili, who is in charge of day-to-day legal proceedings in the defense team acting on behalf of the two businessmen, says that he wanted PM to be questioned at the trial to verify claims about his involvement in “the plot” to arrest the two businessmen.

He filed the similar motion during the preliminary hearings in December, but it was turned down by the judge on the grounds that at the time it was lodged with procedural violations. At the hearing on January 11 the defense lawyer again filed the same motion on question PM Gilauri, as well as Finance Minister Kakha Baindurashvili and Deputy Justice Minister Tina Burjaliani, who the lawyer claimed were also involved; the repeat motion was again turned down.

The judge’s reasoning was that neither the PM nor other senior officials, listed by the defense lawyer, could be relevant witnesses into this case as they were not linked to this concrete criminal proceedings and trial involving a suspected case of bribery attempt.

The judge also turned down a motion by the prosecution requesting summoning for questioning as witnesses two Israeli citizens, who, the prosecution said, were the suspects’ associates.  

One of the key evidence put forth by the prosecution is a secretly recorded footage of a meeting between Fuchs and the Georgian Deputy Finance Minister in September 15 in Istanbul hotel; the footage, the prosecution says, proves its claim that Fuchs was trying to bribe the deputy minister in exchange to convince the Georgian government not to challenge the decision of the international arbitration. The defense tried in vain during the previous court hearings to convince the judge to remove this evidence from the case, arguing that it was obtained by the investigation illegally.

The next court hearing is scheduled for January 13.

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