Prosecutor’s office released on Friday what it called an “interim report” into investigation of Rustavi 2 TV bugging case, suggesting that surveillance cameras in the private television station’s headquarters in Tbilisi were possibly installed in December, 2012 by a security service, which at the time was under then president Mikheil Saakashvili’s subordination.
Suggestion is based on testimony provided to prosecutors by a former employee of Rustavi 2 TV, who was in charge of TV headquarters’ security and who also claims that Rustavi 2 TV’s chief executive Nika Gvaramia was aware that the office was bugged.
Rustavi 2 TV’s director Gvaramia denied the allegation as “utter lie” and accused the former employee of bugging offices in the television station upon the authorities’ instructions. Gvaramia also said that he was not even asked about these allegations when he was questioned by investigators in prosecutor’s office earlier on May 9.
PM Irakli Garibashvili said late on Friday that Rustavi 2 TV is part of opposition UNM party’s campaign and its allegations are “provocation against the government.”
On May 6 Rustavi 2 TV said that a source from the Interior Ministry leaked to the TV station a secretly recorded video footage showing offices of Gvaramia and his deputy Nino Shubladze, which was proving that their offices had been under illegal surveillance. Recordings were apparently from June, 2013. No surveillance devices were found in those offices as of May 6, according to Rustavi 2 TV executives; but, as Gvaramia said, tiny holes in the ceiling were pointing to the fact that cameras had been installed there previously.
Prosecutor’s office announced about the launch of the investigation into the reported case of illegal surveillance on the same day, May 6; investigators spent many hours in the Rustavi 2 TV office, gathering evidence, and Gvaramia, as well as his two deputies Nino Shubladze and Dudu Kurdgelia were questioned by prosecutors on May 9.
Citing “high public interest” towards the case, prosecutor’s office released preliminary findings of its investigation late on Friday afternoon.
It said that Teimuraz Kovziashvili, who up until May 6 was head of security of Rustavi 2 TV’s premises, told investigators that on December 21, 2012 several employees from the Special State Protection Service (SSPS) visited television station’s headquarters.
SSPS, which is in charge of providing security to high-ranking officials, as well as security of various state facilities and buildings, was at the time under subordination of then President Mikheil Saakashvili.
According to Kovziashvili’s testimony neither he nor others from TV station’s security were aware about the purpose of SSPS agents’ visit. He claims that SSPS employees spent about three hours in the headquarters, particularly in the offices of Gvaramia and his two deputies without presence of Rustavi 2 TV employees; he also says that SSPS employees were also using a folding ladder – a suggestion that it was used for installing surveillance cameras on the ceiling.
Kovziashvili also says in his written testimony, released by the prosecutor’s office, that in January 2013 “when I had a chance to thoroughly inspect” offices, which SSPS agents visited on December 21, 2012, he spotted in the office of Nino Shubladze signs indicating on possible presence of a surveillance camera.
“I have informed about it director of the TV station, Nika Gvaramia, who told me: ‘do your job and don’t show extra initiative’,” Kovziashvili says in his testimony.
He also says that he found the visit of SSPS employees suspicious and for that reason decided to save video footage from security cameras, installed in the lobby and corridor of Rustavi 2 TV headquarters.
Prosecutor’s office released a minute and a half long video footage from Rustavi 2 TV’s security cameras showing three men, purportedly SSPS employees, carrying two cases each, inside the premises, entering offices of the television station’s top executives.
Prosecutor’s office also released a written testimony of another security employee of Rustavi 2 TV, Zaza Mkerlishvili, in which he recalls the day when SSPS officers visited television station’s premises.
Two hours after prosecutor’s office released its “internal report”, Rustavi 2 TV chief executive Nika Gvaramia convened a press conference and said that with this statement the prosecutor’s office has actually “confirmed” that the current authorities are in fact behind this bugging case.
Referring to two former security employees of Rustavi 2 TV as “agents”, Gvaramia said that Kovziashvili and Mkerlishvili were those two men who immediately fell under the Rustavi 2 TV leadership’s suspicion after learning that the offices had been bugged.
Standing alongside with his two deputies, Nino Shubladze, who is also head of TV station’s newsroom, and Dudu Kurdgelia at the news conference, Gvaramia accused Kovziashvili and Mkerlishvili of placing surveillance cameras in the offices upon instructions of the authorities; he also claimed that actions of Kovziashvili and Mkerlishvili were handled by Vladimer Bunturidze, who is now in charge of security of the penitentiary system and was chief of Rustavi 2 TV’s security up until December, 2012.
He denied Kovziashvili’s testimony that he was informed about presence of surveillance cameras.
According to Rustavi 2 TV executives on December 21, 2012 several offices in the headquarters were inspected to check whether there were any bugging devices there.
At the time, newly appointed Rustavi 2 TV chief executive Nika Gvaramia, who held senior government posts in Saakashvili’s administration till late 2009, was under detention, facing charges in alleged corruption case; Gvaramia was released on bail on December 22, 2012 and last year court found him not guilty.
According to Rustavi 2 TV executives, after Gvaramia was arrested on December 20, 2012, owners of the station decided to inspect the headquarters to check if there was any bugging device in the offices. Video footage from station’s CCTV cameras, released by prosecutor’s office, shows that very inspection, according to Rustavi 2 TV executives, who strongly deny suggestion that bugging devices were installed during that inspection. According to deputy chief executive of Rustavi 2 TV, Dudu Kurdgelia, he or other employees were in presence when “specialists” were working in the offices; no bugging device was found at the time; they also said that they do not know whether those “specialists”, invited by TV station owners, were from SSPS or not.
“We were being questioned for two hours today in prosecutor’s office and while there was a testimony claiming that we knew about presence of [bugging devices] in our offices, there was not a single question asked by [investigators] about this allegation,” Gvaramia said. “Rustavi 2 actually has to deal with two prosecutor’s offices – the one which really investigates this case and which has already gathered lots of pieces of evidence and another one which follows political orders and disseminating scenarios prepared by the Prime Minister [Irakli Garibashvili] about how to wage war against our media outlet.”
“I promise to those in the authorities, who are now fabricating this case, that… I will make your life a living hell. I also promise that I will expose even worse cases than this one; I wonder what you have to say after we will let you listen how you are eavesdropping your own senior officials – was that also done by us?” Gvaramia said, but did not elaborate into details of what sounded as a warning against the authorities that more recordings are expected to be released.
In an interview with Imedi TV late on Friday night, PM Irakli Garibashvili dismissed, as he put it, “so called Rustavi 2 TV scandal” as “a staged show” and said that it is a “well-planned provocation against the government."
“It is regrettable that Rustavi 2 TV is engaged in the [opposition] United National Movement’s campaign – it is regrettable because many professionals work in this TV station. It is regrettable that their skills are being misused by the National Movement,” Garibashvili said.