A screengrab from TV footage showing Rustavi 2 TV CEO Nika Gvaramia, wearing a t-shirt with broadcaster’s logo and inscription reading “defend freedom”, speaks to Tbilisi City Court judge Tamaz Urtmelidze on October 19, 2015.
Tbilisi City Court judge, Tamaz Urtmelidze, partly overturned on Thursday his earlier ruling from a week ago and reinstated Rustavi 2 TV’s top management, including its director general Nika Gvaramia and financial director Kakha Damenia.
Gvaramia and Damenia’s executive powers have been restored at least until appellate process into judge’s earlier decision on replacing the management is completed.
With the same decision executive powers of one of the temporary managers, appointed by the court on November 5 Davit Dvali have been terminated and the same powers of another temporary manager Revaz Sakevarishvili have been suspended. Suspension of Sakevarishvili’s executive powers will be in force at least until the appellate process into November 5 decision on appointing temporary managers is over.
The decision was submitted for registration at the Justice Ministry’s National Agency of Public Registry on Thursday evening. The process of reinstatement of Gvaramia and Damenia will be formally finalized after these changes are registered by Public Registry, expected on Friday.
On November 5 Tbilisi City Court judge Tamaz Urtmelidze ordered as an interim injunction in ownership dispute over Rustavi 2 TV to appoint temporary administrators replacing broadcaster’s director general Nika Gvaramia and chief financial officer Kakha Damenia. The decision was appealed by lawyers representing current majority shareholders of the Rustavi 2.
The decision meant that Kibar Khalvashi, ex-owner of Rustavi 2 TV who tries to reclaim shares in the broadcaster, was formally taking over management of the TV channel even though ownership remained under its current shareholders as litigation over ownership dispute was still in appellate process.
Court appointed Revaz Sakevarishvili, a former chief executive of Tbilisi-based Imedi TV, and Davit Dvali, co-owner of Rustavi 2 up until 2004, as temporary managers of Rustavi 2.
Gvaramia, suspended CEO of Rustavi 2, condemned court order as illegal; he refused to obey it and to leave the broadcaster’s headquarters in Tbilisi. The court-appointed managers said they would not resort to any enforcement mechanism in order not to cause further tensions.
With its top managers, appointed by the current owners of Rustavi 2, suspended and court-appointed temporary managers unable to perform their duties, the broadcaster was facing leadership vacuum. The Georgian National Communications Commission said on November 9 that with no authorized person to represent Rustavi 2 in relations with third parties, the TV station was facing the threat of its broadcasting being suspended. The court’s November 12 decision to reinstate Gvaramia and Damenia removes this problem at least for now.
On November 7, citing the need to calm tensions, court-appointed managers offered current majority shareholders of the broadcaster to name any person to whom interim managers would have granted power of attorney with full authority to perform all the executive functions required for smooth day-to-day operation of the TV station. But the proposal was rejected by the Rustavi 2 owners, who said that they would not “legitimize political censors through cooperating with them.”
On November 11 court-appointed managers unilaterally gave power of attorney to deputy director and anchor of Rustavi 2 TV’s main news program, Zaal Udumashvili. But the latter has rejected to accept power of attorney from court-appointed managers.
One of the two court-appointed managers, Davit Dvali, co-owned Rustavi 2 along with Jarji Akimidze and the late Erosi Kitsmarishvili before 2004 when it was obtained by Kibar Khalvashi; the latter owned the station before late 2006. On November 6 Khalvashi announced about having a verbal agreement with Dvali and Akimidze according to which he would give halve of his shares of Rustavi 2 TV to the two men if he wins court case over broadcaster’s ownership dispute.
A temporary manager, appointed by the court, is supposed to be a “neutral” person, but Dvali’s neutrality was called into question after Khalvashi announcement about this verbal deal.
The Tbilisi City Court said that the judge took into consideration this fact and decided to overturn the November 5 decision on appointing Dvali as a temporary manager. “The decision in part of [appointing] Revaz Sakevarishvili [as a temporary manager] remained in force,” the Tbilisi City Court said.
In parallel, the Constitutional Court is hearing a complaint lodged by Rustavi 2 TV majority shareholders through which they try to suspend application of a clause in the civil procedure code based on which judge ordered appointment of temporary managers on November 5.
The Constitutional Court, which started the hearing into the complaint on November 11, will continue proceedings on Friday during which it will hear opinion of an invited legal expert. This motion to hear expert opinion was filed by a lawyer representing the Parliament, which is a respondent in any constitutional complaint; lawyers representing Rustavi 2 TV were against as they claimed that the respondent wanted to drag out the process by inviting a legal expert.