Speaking at a news conference late on February 26, President Saakashvili said that Liberty Bank was bought by Russian state-controlled Sberbank and Russiaâ€™s largest privately-owned lender Alfa Bank was buying TBC Bank.
“Several days ago an agreement has actually been finalized and… Liberty Bank has been bought by Russian state-owned Sberbank,” Saakashvili said.
“Now Alfa Bank, which has close links with the Kremlin, is buying TBC Bank. Cartu Bank [which was founded by PM Bidzina Ivanishvili] is in itself the Russian bank. Gazprombank is also entering [into Georgia], which wants to buy several Georgian banks,” Saakashvili said and added that he had never been against of Russian businesses, but “if they seize all the assets” in Georgia “without then doing anything” it would lead to putting Georgian economy in “bondage”.
“That’s not something made-up by me; it’s happening right now as we speak,” the President said.
Saakashvili’s press conference was still ongoing when Liberty Bank’s CEO Lado Gurgenidze, who was the Prime Minister in 2007-2008, released a statement denying that his bank was sold.
“Dear friends, just wanted to state that the rumour that Liberty Bank is in discussions with Sberbank, as it was stated tonight on one of the Georgian TV channels, has no basis and no such discussions have [taken] or are taking place,” Gurgenidze wrote in an English-language statement posted on Liberty Bank’s Facebook page.
Together with Romanian tycoon Dinu Patriciu, Gurgenidze is a beneficial shareholder of the Liberty Bank, which is the fourth largest bank in Georgia by total assets.
When asked before the end of the press conference about Liberty Bank’s refutation, Saakashvili responded: “I’ll be only glad if it’s not true… and I hope that will not be the case in the future too.”
Saakashvili said that he had this information about sale of the Liberty Bank from the National Bank of Georgia. He also added: “I know for sure that there are talks ongoing [to sell] TBC Bank”.
But TBC Bank has also denied in a written statement having any talks to sell its shares.
“The Georgian President has just stated in his televised remarks as if TBC Bank has been purchased by Russia’s one of the largest banks – Alfa Bank. We want to officially state that TBC Bank is not holding talks and is not either intending to hold negotiations either with Alfa Bank or any other bank in the near future about the sale of shares,” TBC Bank said.
EBRD and International Finance Corporation each hold 20.19% shares of TBC Bank, which is the second-largest bank in Georgia in terms of assets. 25.95% is owned by two if its founders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze.