Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld on June 10 the ruling of lower court in favor of Kibar Khalvashi, who seeks reclaiming shares in the Rustavi 2 TV, which he owned about a decade ago.
Natalia Nazgaidze, who chaired the three-judge panel, said that the ruling can be appealed to the Supreme Court within 21 days after the justification of the decision is handed over to the parties.
Rustavi 2 TV and many of the opposition parties say that the court case is an attempt by the authorities, and specifically by ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is widely considered to be still wielding much influence on government, to silence the television station critical of government’s policies.
“We were expecting such ruling… As we were saying the verdict was written in advance,” one of Rustavi 2 TV’s lawyers, Tamta Muradashvili, said after the ruling was handed down on Friday morning.
Zaza Bibilashvili, a lawyer representing 91% shareholders of the Rustavi 2 TV, brothers Giorgi and Levan Karamanishvili, ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s close associates, said that he expects the court of last resort will most likely rule the appeal inadmissible and sometime in August there will be an attempt to take over the TV channel. He argued that this timing will be chosen deliberately to coincide with summer lull in an attempt to lessen strong reaction domestically and internationally to such possible takeover of the opposition-minded television station ahead of the October 8 parliamentary elections.
Billionaire ex-PM Ivanishvili, who denies any involvement in the Rustavi 2 ownership dispute, said on June 7 that he would like to see the current management of Rustavi 2 remain in place in the lead up to the October 8 parliamentary elections as it would be damaging for the country if the TV channel changes its editorial policy during the electoral period.
He also said that if the legal battle over Rustavi 2 TV ownership is over before the elections, including in the court of last resort, in favor of Khalvashi, he would ask the latter to wait and not to change television station’s management before the end of elections. He also said that he would pay Khalvashi to compensate for any possible financial losses.