Georgian court finds opposition Lelo party leaders guilty, releases them from sentence
Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, the leaders of the Lelo party and the founders of TBC Bank, as well as Avtandil Tsereteli, a businessman and the father of Vakhtang Tsereteli, the founder of TV Pirveli, were found guilty by a court and sentenced to seven years in prison.
The leaders of “Lelo” say that they will appeal against this decision because, according to Badri Japaridze, no crime was ever committed.
“This is a continuation of the fraud committed by the prosecution, because obviously there was never any sign of money laundering or any crime that the judge was accusing us of. He changed the article to money laundering, reclassified it to the article that applies to statute of limitations and acquitted us of all charges”, says Japaridze.
According to Mamuka Khazaradze, where there is no justice, there is no peace. He also addressed Bidzina Ivanishvili and said that the Georgian people will not tolerate such injustice in this country.
“Until every citizen has the feeling that their rights and dignity are protected by an independent and impartial court, […] as Badri said, and as I promise, we will continue to fight for the best future of the country. This country has a huge potential, this potential is in each of you, but right now it is hidden, scared. We must awaken it, we must forget the enmity, unite around our homeland and we must make Georgia a successful country”, Mamuka Khazaradze said.
Nika Melia, the chairman of the United National Movement, also responded to the court decision. According to him, arresting the Lelo leaders would be too much even by Ivanishvili’s standards, thus he did not dare to:
“It is good that those people have fought for three years. I am glad that there are more and more such people in the political spectrum who do not give up and do not bow down [ to the government]. This is exactly what Bidzina Ivanishvili was hoping for during these three years by launching various criminal cases against opposition, hoping that they would quit politics. However, what he ended up having is the complete opposite – all three of those people have become more and more ruthless”.
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The court considered the case of one of the largest banks – TBC Bank, whose founders were accused of legalization of illegal income or money laundering in the amount of 17 million dollars.
In August 2019, the prosecutor’s office launched a criminal case on the legalization of illegal income. The case was attended by the founders of TBC bank – the chairman of the supervisory board Mamuka Khazaradze and his deputy Badri Japaridze. The deal, which was being investigated by the prosecutor’s office, dates back to 2008. That is, the case was initiated more than 10 years after the transaction.
According to the prosecutor’s office, TBC Bank issued a loan of $ 17 million to Samgori M Ltd and Samgori Trade to replenish working capital.
The loan was allegedly issued in an expedited manner and in violation of procedures, and after that $ 17 million was transferred to the bank accounts of Mamuka Khazaradze and his deputy Badri Japaridze. The money was transferred to the company that borrowed it from TBC.
The prosecutor’s office stated that TBC has not yet returned the $ 17 million to the bank. Moreover, in 2012, TBC released Samgori M and Samgori Trade from their loan obligations altogether, allowing them to transfer a bank loan of $ 17 million to an offshore company. It is not clear from the statement of the prosecutor’s office why the prosecutor’s office calls this amount “black money”.
Another interesting detail of the case is that Samgori M and Samgori Trade are owned by businessman Avtandil Tsereteli, and his son Vakhtang Tsereteli owns the Pirveli TV company.
Many versions of this case have been put forward. All versions are united by the figure of Bidzina Ivanishvili – no one believes that the prosecutor’s office dared to “disturb” one of the country’s largest financial institutions without the consent of the informal ruler of Georgia.
According to some experts, Khazaradze is being punished for being friends with the former prime minister and once Ivanishvili’s favorite, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who was later dismissed by the ruling party.
Some draw parallels with the case that happened in Russia in 2004, when Vladimir Putin ousted his potential rivals, businessmen and media tycoons Gusinsky, Khodorkovsky and others.
Experts also point out that Ivanishvili is killing two birds with one stone in the lawsuit against TBC – the influential banker Khazaradze and the owner of the increasingly popular TV Pirveli, Avtandil Tsereteli.
But the main version revolves around the events concerning the construction of the deep-water port of Anaklia.
According to this version, Ivanishvili was irritated by the fact that TBC Bank was involved in the construction of one of the most important projects of modern Georgia – Anaklia Port. Even Ivanishvili himself did not hide this.
Upon returning to politics after a pause of several years, Ivanishvili said in an interview that there were two banks in Georgia – TBC and Bank of Georgia, which “consumed the whole country”.
In the same interview, Ivanishvili also criticized the former Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili for lobbying the interests of the said banks. Ivanishvili was referring to the fact that TBC won the tender for the construction of a port in Anaklia during Kvirikashvili’s rule.