Georgia ex-minister of defense renounces controlling stake in opposition TV channel "Formula"
Kezerashvili renounces TV Formula shares
Ex-Minister of Defense of Georgia and founder of the opposition TV company Formula David Kezerashvili is giving up a controlling stake in the TV channel. In his statement released on April 18, he said he would give half of the share to the staff of the TV company. He also intends to transfer the remaining half of the shares to the team, but after “the end of the oligarchic rule.”
Kezerashvili’s decision is a response to a journalistic investigation published by the influential British broadcaster BBC last week. It referred to an international fraudulent network of call centers, which, according to investigative journalists, may be headed by the ex-Minister of Defense of Georgia. Kezerashvili himself denies the accusations and intends to prove his case in a British court.
“After the disappearance of the Ivanishvili factor and the final integration with the Western world, I am sure that free media will have many other sources of existence without my participation, and this is where my activity supporting media or any involvement in Georgian politics will end,” David Kezerashvili said.
He emphasizes that, despite giving up his sharea, he will still support the “Formula” financially:
“I’ve decided to give Formula TV an opportunity to create a completely new and unique media model that will increase its editorial independence even more.”
At the same time, Kezerashvili emphasizes that “still he cannot distance himself from everything” and, despite the “difficult environment” created around him, his “leaving the processes is out of the question.”
“How can I distance myself from everything when I can lay even if one brick in the fight against the Russian oligarchy,” he says.
What does Kezerashvili say about the case of call center scam
In the letter, Kezerashvili commented on the details of the BBC investigation. According to Kezerashvili, despite the company’s standards, there were many lies and inaccuracies in the investigation.
The former defense minister says that the Georgian authorities, in particular the prosecutor’s office, managed to send the BBC’s journalistic investigation in “the direction they needed” and mislead the authors of the investigation.
Kezerashvili wonders why the authors of this investigation did not ask themselves the question: “How can there be a transnational criminal center in a country without the participation and protection of the government [of this country]?”
“I will do my best to prove in court the unfairness of the allegations made in the investigation. I have full confidence in the British justice system and I am sure that it will share the arguments of my legal team, which is already preparing all the necessary documents,” the letter says.
Kezerashvili also notes that he has information about the connection of high-ranking government officials with call centers:
“I am ready to cooperate with any investigative authorities in Europe and provide the information I have about high-ranking officials who are actually involved in the so-called call centers.”
It also refers to certain people who were involved in this network but are “moralizing” today. Kezerashvili does not specify who he means:
“I am also surprised by the position of those people who have known for a long time about the work of this fraudulent scheme, about the involvement of their neighbors, relatives or children in it. It’s amazing that these people are now moralizing and enlightening me.”
- Court of Appeal upholds verdict against ex-Minister of Defense of Georgia
- Call center fraud: international criminal scheme uncovered in Georgia
On April 12, the BBC published a journalistic investigation suggesting that former Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili might be connected to an international scam that has earned more than a billion dollars by defrauding European citizens.
The case concerns a financial fraud scheme that the BBC has been investigating for over a year. The network is known to the police as the Milton Group. According to the BBC, over 152 brands have been identified as participating in this network. Fraudsters called European citizens, offering to invest their savings and increase capital, and fraudulently deposited thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of euros or pounds, into special crypto accounts.
According to the BBC, the journalists tracked down who is behind this network. Five people have been named, four of them have Georgian surnames and are likely Georgian citizens. These are David Todua, Rati Chelidze, Guram Gogeshvili, Iosif Mgeladze and Mikhail Benimini. It is these names that appeared in the Panama Papers and are associated with David Kezerashvili, BBC writes.
The so-called "call center case"
The opposition and the Georgian authorities have long been accusing each other of participating in the “call center case.” Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili spoke about the guilt of a high-ranking official of the previous government of Mikheil Saakashvili, David Kezerashvili, and the chairman of the largest opposition National Movement party, Levan Khabeishvili, spoke about the head of the State Security Service, Grigol Liluashvili.
Citizens living in different European countries become victims of fraudulent activity of call centers. According to a predetermined plan, employees of the “call center” contacted citizens of Germany and other countries from false numbers, presented themselves with fictitious names, reported false information about the location of their company and offered to participate in electronic trading in securities, currency and cryptocurrency through fictitious electronic accounts using platforms.
Operators assured users that with their help, in the case of electronic commerce, they would be able to make significant profits. After obtaining the consent of the user, the funds allocated for e-commerce were placed in bank accounts controlled by the criminal group.
The funds were then transferred by the group to the accounts of companies based abroad, from which they ended up in the accounts of companies in Georgia for a fictitious purpose, as if in exchange for services rendered.
Under this scheme, criminals laundered illegal proceeds in the amount of 9,490,991 euros, 716,642 dollars and 218,000 British pounds in 2021. Then the prosecutor’s office made an official statement about the disclosure of a transnational crime. According to her, the citizens of Georgia and Israel formed an organized criminal group with a structural form, acting in collusion, fraudulently seized “millions of euros belonging to German citizens, and legalized illegal proceeds of crime.”
According to the BBC, journalists are unable to document Kezerashvili’s connection to this fraudulent network. Also, investigative journalists were unable to find concrete evidence that Kezerashvili has a financial interest in the Milton Group brands.
However, journalists also mention other important details that, in their opinion, may indicate Kezerashvili’s connection with this case.
“Many trails lead to one figure – David Kezerashvili, a former high-ranking official of the Georgian government, who was the country’s defense minister for two years,” the investigation says.