The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) said on July 9, that one of the arrested photographers had links with the Russian military intelligence and two others were providing him with confidential information, including, among others, photos of technical drawings of the presidential palace and travel routes of President Saakashvili.
In a statement the ministry said that Zurab Kurtsikidze, a photographer working for the Frankfurt-based European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), “has links with employees of the Russian Federation’s military intelligence [GRU] A. Sinitsin and S. Okrokov, who are wanted by the Georgian law enforcement agencies for espionage charges.”
Two others, who were charged with espionage and sent to pre-trial detention on July 9, are Irakli Gedenidze, who was a personal photographer of President Saakashvili and Giorgi Abdaladze, a freelancer also working with the Foreign Ministry.
“It has also been found out, that Zurab Kurtsikidze had links with citizens of the Russian Federation to whom arrested people were passing secret information via Zurab Kurtsikidze. In particular, in exchange of monetary compensation Irakli Gedenidze and Giorgi Abdaladze, who were state employees, in the process of performing their professional duties, managed to take pictures of documents, which contained secret information and then to pass them to Kurtsikidze, who in turn was sending this information to Moscow,” the Interior Ministry said.
“During the search, among private belongings of Irakli Gedenidze and Giorgi Abdaladze, as well as after study of files in their computers, photos of technical drawings of part of building of the President’s administration, information about the President’s travel routes, details about the President’s visits and meetings, as well as other information containing secret, have been found,” the Interior Ministry said.
The Interior Ministry has also released a video recording of Irakli Gedenidze’s testimony in which the Georgian President’s pool photographer says that he was offered by Kurtsikidze to provide him with photos of various events involving President Saakashvili in exchange of payment.
“Some time later he asked me to also make captions on these photos in exchange for certain payment; later Zurab [Kurtsikidze] demanded from me to provide other information too, which was beyond my professional duties of taking photos; at that point I realized that it was something to do with special services and my suspicion was further strengthened as I knew that he was sending those photos to Moscow in a photo agency [Kurtsikidze was working with the Frankfurt-based EPA’s Moscow bureau]; I refused and told him that I would not have provided him with those information, but he reminded me about my signatures, which I was making on payments received for providing photos and told me that he would have used those signatures against me; so he used language of blackmail; I got afraid and continued cooperation. After that Zurab requested my bank accounts for money transfers,” Gedenidze said.
Gedenidze’s wife, Natia Gedenidze, also a photojournalist, was arrested together with three others, but she was released in early hours of July 9.
The Tbilisi City Court said that Natia Gedenidze was released on GEL 10,000 bail on the grounds that she had “confessed her crime” and because of having two children.
The Interior Ministry has also released a secretly recorded phone conversation between Gedenidze and Kurtsikidze in which the latter asks him to send via email his bank account number in order “to transfer money directly from Frankfurt.” In a separate recorded phone conversation with Giorgi Abdaladze, Kurtsikidze also asks him to send his bank account information.
EPA's editor-in-chief, Cengiz Serem, told ABC News on July 7, that Kurtsikidze is “absolutely not” a spy and charges against him were “crazy”.
“They say he sent pictures to Moscow. These were pool pictures and were given to all agencies... The pictures are even vetted by the President before they're sent out.”
He also said that Kurtsikidze had never had troubles with the authorities before. “[He] only covers what he's officially invited to and authorized to do. We do not have that sort of investigative journalism there.”