Court order authorizing impounder of satellite dishes owned by Global TV was made in violation of criminal procedures code, Tbilisi-based legal advocacy and watchdog group, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), said on June 24.
In particular, GYLA said, article 151 of criminal procedures code was violated, because it stipulates that a property of an accused or of a person related to an accused can be seized. The chief prosecutor’s office initiated criminal case into possible vote-buying, but no one has been charged so far into the case. For that reason, GYLA said, the court order on seizure of property was not in line with the law. The same argument was cited by Global TV’s lawyers when protesting against this decision of the court.
The criminal procedures code also envisages applying seizure of property as a preventive measure if there is enough evidence that a property is used for committing “especially grave crimes”; but this provision, GYLA said, cannot apply to Global TV’s case because, according to the Georgian legislation, vote-buying does not fall under the category of “especially grave crime.”
The chief prosecutor’s office said on June 21 that a criminal investigation was launched in a possible vote-buying case involving distribution of satellite dish antennas by Global TV, a company in which Georgian Dream opposition coalition Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brother owns shares. Global TV has been distributing antennas to clients in the provinces under a scheme according to which clients were not required to pay any sum; clients should start payment GEL 4 per month only after twelve months and continue payments for following ten years. The state audit agency said that Global TV imported tens of thousands of satellite dishes with a loan received from Bidzina Ivanishvili and while installing dishes to clients, the authorities claim, the company was in fact campaigning in favor Ivanishvili’s opposition coalition by handing out dishes as a gift from the billionaire politician. A multi-million fine was imposed on Ivanishvili into this case as an administrative punishment for violation of party funding rules.
On June 21 the chief prosecutor’s office requested the court to impound Global TV’s satellite dishes stored in warehouses. The court approved the request and police forces arrived at several enterprises affiliated to Bidzina Ivanishvili, where Global TV’s satellite antennas were stored, to execute the court’s order.
Global TV’s marketing director, Zurab Bazlidze, told Civil.ge on Saturday that apart of stored dishes, the authorities also seized 11,700 satellite dishes, which were imported into Georgia on June 22. With this recent seizure, he said, total number of seized dishes reached roughly up to 70,000.
The Georgian Dream opposition coalition said that seizure of dishes aimed at restricting public’s access to information ahead of the October parliamentary elections. Global TV is the only cable operator carrying Ivanishvili’s television station, Channel 9, which is also available via satellite.
The government denied the allegation, saying that the probe into Global TV had nothing to do with media and in an apparent attempt to back up its claim announced about the readiness to introduce ‘must-carry/must offer’ rules, obligating all the cable networks to transmit all TV channels with news programs during the electoral campaign period – something that authorities previously were strongly against of.
GYLA said that while the state should take efficient measures to combat crime, “the process should be conducted in observance of principle of justice and law.” It also said that the state should treat with “special caution” media-related cases.
Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, told Tbilisi-based Maestro TV, that investigation into distribution of satellite dishes was at least “indirectly” a media-related case.
“Of course I need specific evidence to [judge] whether or not handing out of dishes served the purpose of voter bribery. Burdon of providing proof lies with investigators; they should provide convincing evidence to prove that seized property could have really be used for vote-buying,” he said.