Father of owner of Georgian opposition TV channel Pirveli charged with complicity in money laundering
The father of the owner of TV Pirveli, Georgia’s ‘second’ opposition channel, has been accused of complicity in a money laundering case launched against the founders of Georgia’s largest commercial bank, TBC Bank.
Given that the country’s foremost opposition channel Rustavi 2 was recently handed over to a businessman close to the authorities, observers say the authorities are trying to take total control of the country’s critical TV stations.
The new owner of Rustavi 2, businessman Kibar Khalvashi, began firing staff on August 20 – the head of the information service and several leading journalists and producers were relieved of their posts.
This gave rise to protest throughout the company – the journalists and anchors of well-known programme Kurieri [Geo. Courier] announced their resignation live on the air, as did others.
Rustavi 2 has stopped broadcasting the news in the past few days – on August 21, instead of the evening release of Kurieri, the film Fox Hunter was shown on TV.
The film talks about the real life events of a multi-millionaire psychopath.
On August 22, the prosecutor’s office launched a criminal case against Avtandil Tsereteli, the father of the owner of TV Pirveli, Vakhtang Tsereteli.
The case concerns a transaction carried out by TBC Bank over 11 years ago.
The Prosecutor’s Office claims that in April 2008, TBC Bank credited Samgori M and Samgori Trade, owned by Avtandil Tsereteli, with $16.664 million.
The prosecutor’s office now claims that the loan was granted in an accelerated manner with a violation of procedures.
According to the documentation, both companies of Avtandil Tsereteli then repaid the loan amount not to TBC Bank, but to the personal accounts of the bank managers – Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze.
The prosecutor’s office claims the transaction is likely a case of money laundering, and says that the $16,664,000 has still not been returned to this day.
No suits have been lodged pertaining to the transaction. And yet a criminal case has been launched against both Khazaradze and Japaridze.
Several days ago, their bank accounts were frozen at the request of the prosecutor’s office.
The son of Avtandil Tsereteli – Vakhtang Tsereteli – who owns the TV company Pirveli TV, said that by instituting criminal proceedings against his father, the authorities are trying to put pressure on his own television channel.
“For the third year, using any methods and ways, you are trying to achieve this, but nothing will come of it,” Vakhtang Tsereteli wrote on his Facebook page.
“And now they have started to blackmail me, using the dearest person, having concocted an absurd case on him. I repeat – you won’t get TV Pirveli!”
Vakhtang Tsereteli writes there that Avtandil Tsereteli is not in Georgia, but he is ready to appear at the prosecutor’s office upon his return to the country on August 29.
TV Pirveli is a small but full-fledged television company critical of the authorities. It brought together popular journalists who at different times have lost their jobs on state television channels.
Given that the Rustavi 2 TV company has come under the actual control of the authorities, TV Pirveli at this stage remains the only opposition channel in Georgia, where 70 percent of the population still receives basic information through television.
“Ivanishvili has switched to full-scale political repression”
Against the background of the events unfolding in Rustavi 2, observers consider the accusation against the father of the owner of TV Pirveli an attempt by the authorities to take total control of the country’s television scene.
Politicians and experts say that the authorities are engaging in this ‘clean up of the media space’ given that parliamentary elections will be held in 2020.
Few doubt that the main figure behind these events is the informal leader of the country and head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
“Ivanishvili chose lies and intimidation, propaganda and repression as his main weapon, he had nothing left. We see the processes associated with Rustavi 2. And it’s absolutely clear and understandable that the authorities have begun to blackmail the owner of TV Pirveli, Vakhtang Tsereteli, threatening to arrest his father,” said the leader of the Republican Party, David Berdzenishvili.
“This case once again confirms that Ivanishvili … is trying to monopolize the media space. He is politically bankrupt … and is trying to avoid the impending defeat in the parliamentary elections in 2020. But … in 2020, he is doomed to a grave defeat, because voters will certainly ask him to account for today’s repression”, said Otar Kakhidze, one of the leaders of the opposition party European Georgia.
“The authorities, with their thoughtless actions, have transcended all borders. But … such a government driven to despair will be thrown out onto the street,” says Roman Gotsiridze, a member of former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement.
Former member of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Eka Beselia, who left her in the spring of 2019, criticizes the authorities:
“Has the government exhausted itself entirely of prudence and rationality? Maybe there is somebody there who understands what is happening and can loudly say that we have already been through all of this, we’ve seen this, and that it will end badly [for them]”, Beselia wrote on her Facebook page after the charges against the father of the owner of TV Pirveli were announced.