- Khalvashi says will give half of his shares to two ex-owners if he wins court battle for Rustavi 2
Temporary managers of Rustavi 2 TV, appointed by the court upon the request of broadcaster’s former shareholder Kibar Khalvashi, who wants to reclaim ownership of the television station, said “no one will be able to interfere” in Rustavi 2 TV’s editorial independence and “not a single” journalist will be sacked when they take over day-to-day operations of the channel.
Revaz Sakevarishvili, a former chief executive of Imedi TV, and Davit Dvali, one of the former co-owners of Rustavi 2 TV, were appointed by the court on November 5 as temporary managers of Rustavi 2, replacing broadcaster’s CEO Nika Gvaramia and CFO Kakha Damenia.
Condemning court’s decision as illegal, Gvaramia said that he is not going to obey the ruling. “I am not going to leave this building, come and expel me with use of force,” he said.
Dvali, however, said on November 6, that “police will not be called” to force Gvaramia leave his office and there will be nothing of the kind that happened in 2007, when Imedi TV was raided by the riot police.
“No force whatsoever will be used,” Paata Salia, a lawyer representing Kibar Khalvashi, said; he, however, also added that Gvaramia and Damenia are no longer authorized to manage the company and if they refuse to obey the court order it will be damaging for the TV channel’s operations.
Temporary managers of the channel – Sakevarishvili and Dvali, as well as one of the former co-owners of Rustavi 2 TV Jarji Akimidze, appeared before journalists jointly at a press conference on November 6 together with Kibar Khalvashi and his lawyer.
Khalvashi said that he entered into a verbal agreement with Dvali and Akimidze, who co-owned Rustavi 2 TV along with Erosi Kitsmarishvili before Khalvashi became broadcaster’s shareholder in 2004. According to this agreement, Khalvashi said, he is ready to give “half of my shares” to Akimidze and Dvali if he wins court case over ownership dispute.
Khalvashi, Dvali and Akimidze said that their agreement is based on three principles, involving “distancing” Rustavi 2 TV from all the political forces; not to take sides in political developments and to be “critical” and “objective” in its coverage, and not to accept funding from political groups.
After Khalvashi launched court proceedings to reclaim Rustavi 2 TV in early August, Dvali and Akimidze voiced their support to Khalvashi’s lawsuit, saying that the process would also help their intention to claim back shares in the broadcaster.
Tbilisi City Court judge Tamaz Urtmelidze ruled on November 3 in favor of Kibar Khalvashi’s lawsuit ordering change of Rustavi 2 TV ownership. The verdict, however, will be appealed by the current majority shareholders of the broadcaster and the decision in favor of Khalvashi cannot be enforced until all the avenues of appeal are exhausted. But although ownership dispute still remains under litigation, with the November 5 court ruling Khalvashi has been authorised to take over management of the TV channel.
Davit Dvali and Jarji Akimidze – whom Khalvashi plans to give 25% of shares each if he wins the court battle, co-founded Rustavi 2 TV in 1994 along with Erosi Kitsmarishvili.
The three men owned 30% of the broadcaster’s shares each until 2004 before Khalvashi became the new majority shareholder.
After the change of government in Georgia in late 2012, Dvali and Akimidze filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office claiming that they were forced by the previous leadership of the country 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.
Erosi 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.
On July 15, 2014 Erosi Kitsmarishvili was found dead with a single gunshot wound to the head in his own car, parked in underground garage of an apartment building in Tbilisi center where he lived. The investigation, which is still ongoing, treats the death as a suicide, but Kitsmarishvili’s relatives question suicide version.
Speaking at a news conference on November 6, Davit Dvali said that in other circumstance he would not have agreed to take the role of a temporary manager, but accepted the offer after leaked audio recordings of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili revealed, as he put it, how “some extremist groups” try to use Rustavi 2 TV for their political purposes.
Rezo Sakevarishvili, another temporary manager of Rustavi 2 TV, said at the same news conference that “not a single person will leave Rustavi 2 TV if of course they will not resign on their own or if their work does not come in conflict with generally recognized journalistic principles.”
When asked about sacking of dozens of journalists and employees of Imedi TV when he became chief executive of the channel in late 2012, Sakevarishvili responded that it was caused by “reorganization”, suggesting that it had nothing to do with editorial policy.
Khalvashi’s lawsuit to reclaim Rustavi 2 TV ownership is seen by many opposition parties and civil society activists as a politically motivated ploy by the government to silence the opposition-minded channel.
Khalvashi, his lawyer, as well as temporary managers have denied the allegation saying that Rustavi 2 TV should continue its “critical”, but “impartial” coverage of developments in the country.
Dvali said at the news conference that narrative that pro-western Rustavi 2 TV is being seized is part of Saakashvili’s “propaganda”. “Our ideology… is based on values that include vision of Georgia’s future in the European space,” Dvali said.