Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, said on March 16 that delay of parliamentary speaker Davit Bakradze’s planned visit to Israel might have some affect on bilateral relations, but stressed that the visit was “not canceled, it was postponed.”
The Israeli media reported, citing a statement from the Knesset speaker’s office, that Reuven Rivlin requested his Georgian counterpart Davit Bakradze to delay the visit “due to internal and external circumstances which preclude the visit” and also because the fate of Israeli businessman, Ron Fuchs, who is on trial in Georgia over bribery charges, “is disturbing to many Israelis and that public pressure on the issue led him to understanding the timing was not suitable for an official visit to Israel.”
“It will affect [bilateral relations] to the extent that the visit, which would have promoted our bilateral relations, has not been conducted; but this visit is not canceled, it is postponed,” the Georgian Foreign Minister told reporters when asked on the matter. “As far as reasons are concerned, I have read six various reasons in the Israeli press ranging from Knesset speaker’s tight schedule to talks due to start with Palestinian side.”
Ron Fuchs, who has won a long-standing USD 98.1 million dispute with Georgia in an international arbitration, and his associate Zeev Frenkiel, were arrested in Georgia’s Black Sea town of Batumi on October 14. They were charged with offering a bribe to Georgia’s Deputy Finance Minister, Avtandil Kharaidze, in exchange for persuading the Georgian government not to appeal the decision of international arbitration.
The trial into the case, which is ongoing in the Tbilisi City Court, enters into its final phase. In late February and early March the prosecution’s key witness Deputy Finance Minister Avtandil Kharaidze, was questioned at the trial during four consecutive hearings.
He told the court that he was tasked by the government to negotiate a settlement with Fuchs. Kharaidze said Zeev Frenkiel, via whom he then contacted Ron Fuchs, first offered him USD 5 million bribe during a meeting in Tbilisi in early September. He said that the same offer was made to him on September 15 by both Frenkiel and Fuchs in a hotel in Istanbul on September 15 during the meeting, which was secretly videotaped. This video is key evidence of the prosecution, which the defense wanted to be removed from the case arguing that it was obtained illegally; but the judge rejected defense’s this motion, like the one requesting for questioning of PM Nika Gilauri.
The defense says that Fuchs arrived in Georgia after receiving an invitation letter from Georgia’s PM Nika Gilauri requesting him to meet and settle the dispute. The defense argues that the letter was part of “the plot” by the Georgian authorities to lure Fuchs into Georgia under the pretext of finalizing deal 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.
Deputy Finance Minister Avtandil Kharaidze told the court that he was cooperating with the law enforcement agencies and knew nothing either about PM’s alleged involvement or about his letter of invitation.
Fuchs, using his right to silence, refused to testify before the court.
Another defendant Zeev Frenkiel told the court that no bribe had been offered to Kharaidze. He said that the offer was made to the Georgian government – and not personally to Kharaidze – to pay USD 72 million out of which USD 7 million would have been returned back to the government. He said it was a tentative deal reached with Kharaidze – a person representing the government, and Fuchs wanted to agree final details directly with PM Gilauri from whom he had received the invitation letter to arrive in Georgia to agree on the final settlement.
The court will hear closing arguments by the prosecution on March 21 and then by the defense date of which has yet to be defined; after that the judge will retire to consider the verdict.