Erosi Kitsmarishvili, a former owner of Rustavi 2 TV and ex-ambassador to Russia, who died of a gunshot to the head, was buried on Sunday in Tbilisi as investigation to determine cause of the death continues with participation of independent forensic and ballistics experts invited by the family.
Funeral service was held on Sunday in the headquarters of Rustavi 2 TV, the television station which Kitsmarishvili founded twenty years ago and which he co-owned up until 2004.
Kitsmarishvili was found dead on July 15 in his own car, parked in underground garage of an apartment building in the Vake district where he lived. He was in a driver’s seat with seatbelt fastened; he had a single contact gunshot wound in the head, according to an independent forensic expert, who has been hired by the family and who has access to ongoing investigation.
A private ballistics expert has also been involved in the investigation by the family, who, together with experts from the Interior Ministry, examined CZ pistol, fired bullet and its case, found in the car. Findings, which have yet to be produced, are expected to determine whether the shot came from this gun found in the car. According to prosecutor’s office the gun was registered by Kitsmarishvili in his name earlier on the same day, July 15.
Visual examination of this gun found no evidence of blood on it or in its barrel, and further examination, involving analysis of DNA samples taken from the gun and its muzzle, was ordered, according to Maia Nikoleishvili, a forensic expert hired by the family. She also said bloodstain pattern analysis showed that a front passenger seat was not occupied when the shot was fired. Initial fingerprint analysis of the gun was inconclusive and further examination was underway, according to Erosi Kitsmarishvili’s brother, Zurab.
Although the investigation was launched under the criminal code dealing with suicides, investigators are also pursuing other lines of inquiry, prosecutor’s office said on July 16; no further statements have been made by the law enforcement authorities over the case since then.
Kitsmarishvili’s family, his friends and colleagues say they do not believe the man, who was discussing with his partners ambitious plans for future, including launching of a cable TV network, committed a suicide.
Ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili wrote on his Facebook page on July 20: “Erosi Kitsmarishvili and ‘suicide’ – for me these are completely incompatible.”
Kitsmarishvili was once Saakashvili’s close ally. Rustavi 2 TV, which he co-owned up until summer 2004, played an important role in the 2003 Rose Revolution, which brought Saakashvili into power and gave Kitsmarishvili political influence, exerted by him from behind the scenes. But he was then sidelined, apparently after falling out with then PM Zurab Zhvania, who died in February, 2005.
In July, 2004 he sold his shares in the Rustavi 2 TV in a deal, which still remains a source of dispute. Several years later he made comeback in behind-the-scenes politics, becoming one of Saakashvili’s strategists for January, 2008 snap presidential election. After Saakashvili was re-elected, Kitsmarishvili was appointed as ambassador to Russia where he stayed until July, 2008, when he was recalled from Moscow by Tbilisi amid rising tensions between the two countries, which culminated in war in August, 2008. In September, 2008 Kitsmarishvili publicly lashed out at Saakashvili and slammed him for a failure to avert the war.
When commenting on Kitsmarishvili’s death, ex-president Saakashvili told Rustavi 2 TV on July 19 that this television station “remains a target of the Russian oligarch” – referring to ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. Saakashvili then added: “Alive Kitsmarishvili would have made seizure of Rustavi 2 TV quite difficult.”
“I am not saying that it necessarily means that someone got rid of him [Kitsmarishvili],” said Saakashvili, who was speaking to Rustavi 2 TV from Zurich. “If I were [in charge of] investigation, I would send all the pieces of evidence to FBI, because I do not think it is possible to normally investigate [this case] today in Georgia.”
Rustavi 2 TV, which is now managed by a former UNM lawmaker and former government member Nika Gvaramia, has changed hands for number of times since the 2003 Rose Revolution; changes in its ownership structure were mainly related to political developments in the country. Some of the previous owners of Rustavi 2 TV, among them Davit Dvali and Jarji Akimidze, who co-founded and co-owned Rustavi 2 TV together with Kitsmarishvili, filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office after the change of government in 2012, seeking to reclaim ownership of the channel and claiming that they were forced by the previous authorities to give up their shares; they were also on bad terms with Kitsmarishvili. In November, 2012 then PM Bidzina Ivanishvili welcomed that ex-owners were trying to reclaim the channel and called them “real owners” of the Rustavi 2 TV. Kitsmarishvili was saying in various media interviews that if Akimidze and Dvali were lawful owners than he too would have the right to claim 30% of shares he owned in the channel and that it would be impossible to solve this dispute without his participation.
In November, 2009 Kitsmarishvili made comeback in the broadcasting business by taking over management of the Tbilisi-based Maestro TV. But two years later Maestro TV co-owners and Kitsmarishvili were in a fierce confrontation over the control of the channel; the dispute was still ongoing through court litigations at the time of Kitsmarishvili’s death.
In 2010-2011 Kitsmarishvili became politically active as well by co-founding the Georgian Party together with several figures, who at the time were in the opposition; Sozar Subari, who is now minister in charge of penitentiary, and ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili were among the founders. The party became actually defunct before the end of 2011 and Kitsmarishvili kept low profile since then.
Kitsmarishvili made a political comeback ahead of the June 15 local elections in which he ran for mayor of his native Rustavi. He was the third in the race with 12% of votes and in the run-up to the second round of elections, together with three other former candidates, threw support behind UNM mayoral candidate, who lost the runoff to GD’s candidate on July 12.