Co-owner of cable provider, Global TV, Alexander Ronzhes, was held for questioning for more than five hours in Tbilisi airport in connection to “suspicious transaction” involving large amount of money, the Georgian authorities said.
Ronzhes, a U.S. citizen who owns 17.2% shares in Global TV in which 66.8% is owned by brother of opposition coalition Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, was stopped in the Tbilisi airport as he was leaving the country late on Thursday afternoon.
He was “questioned as a witness” in the ongoing probe involving “potential case of legalization of illegal income,” investigations unit at the Ministry of Finance said in its Georgian-language statement.
It said that Ronzhes sold on June 8 a real property in Tbilisi for GEL 3.1 million, which he bought back in 2004 for GEL 180,000.
“He withdrew in cash significant portion of sum received [from property sale] from his bank account, which, in accordance to the Georgian legislation and international standards, represents a suspicious transaction. Because he did not declare the sum while crossing the Georgian border, it was deemed appropriate to questioned Alexander Ronzhes as a witness,” the Finance Ministry’s investigations unit said.
In its English-language statement the Finance Ministry’s investigations unit says that it “is examining the sale price of the property in the context of potential money laundering.” It said that property price at which it was sold, GEL 3.1 million, was double of its current market value.
A company which bought the property was named as Leasing XXI, which is owned by a firm registered in the British Virgin Islands.
“It was based on his large cash withdrawal that Mr. Ronzhes was stopped for questioning as a witness,” the Finance Ministry’s investigations unit said.
After the questioning late on Thursday, Ronzhes was released and his lawyers said that investigators were mainly asking questions about the property-related transaction and interrogation lasted long because it was carried out through interpreter, news agency InterPressNews reported.
A statement, which was released via press release distribution services and in which Global TV is attributed as a source, says that the officials interrogated Ronzhes “about money from the sale that he had placed in a safe deposit box, repeatedly demanding that he provide them with access to his safe deposit box, where a portion of the proceeds were stored in cash.”
“Following interventions by local attorneys and the U.S. consular office, Ronzhes was released from detention shortly before midnight, and thus remains in Georgia,” it says.
Ronzhes, who has not been charged, held a news conference in Tbilisi on June 12 and said that his cable operator company Global TV was facing serious difficulties because of being targeted by the authorities.
66.8% of Global TV shares are owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brother Alexander; 16% of shares are distributed among three other Georgian citizens and 17.2% is owned Ronzhes.
Global TV is the only cable operator, which carries Channel 9, which is owned by Ivanishvili’s wife.
In March, 2012 Global TV, which also provides clients with installation of satellite dish antennas, had to suspend carrying to its cable network subscribers several Georgian television stations, among them the two major nationwide broadcasters – Rustavi 2 TV and Imedi TV, upon their request. Global TV said it was done deliberately to encourage its subscribers to switch to other cable operators and to discourage potential new clients from subscribing with Global TV with an eventual goal to limit number of households with access to Channel 9’s broadcasts, which is also available via satellite and internet.
Later Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV sued Global TV claiming that the fact that viewers with Global TV’s dish antennas were still able to watch Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV amounted to retransmitting their signal.
Non-encrypted satellite signals of Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV are available freely via Turkish satellite operator Turksat.
Global TV lost the case in the court, which the company said was an absurd decision because it was only a provider of an equipment, in this case of a satellite dish, and it was beyond its ability to control a signal of which TV channel a client would receive. The company said that technically the only way to now implement the court’s ruling was to simply start removing its satellite dish antennas from its clients.
Ronzhes spoke at the news conference on June 12 about this and number of other problems, which, he said, the authorities started to create to the Global TV after Bidzina Ivanishvili decided to go into politics.