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Georgian tycoon’s campaign head recorded detailing coup plot

By Messenger Staff
Monday, December 24
December 24, Tbilisi – Authorities have released a secretly recorded videotape of Badri Patarkatsishvili’s presidential campaign head allegedly detailing a planned coup d’etat for January 6.

MP Valeri Gelbakhiani can be seen asking a top Interior Ministry official to help the plot go forward after the January 5 presidential election, which he said the opposition would portray as fixed.

There are 80 000 people on his campaign’s payroll, Gelbakhiani says, which can be mobilized across the country within an hour.

“One word and Tbilisi is out [on the streets],” Gelbakhiani tells Irakli Kodua, head of the Interior Ministry’s Special Operations Department. “Everything is prepared for January 5. It all starts from January 5.”

Kodua, the prosecutor general’s office said, had arranged the meeting after Gelbakhiani made overtures to bring him into the scheme.

Gelbakhiani requests that Kodua arrange the arrest of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili; he later seems to add that killing Merabishvili, if necessary, would be “acceptable.”

“If I neutralize [Merabsishvili],” Kodua asks, “then what do you do with [incumbent presidential candidate] Misha [Saakashvili]?”

“Misha won’t stay in the country for even an hour,” Gelbakhiani replies.

Gelbakhiani told journalists the tape was edited. He claims he was trying to convince Kodua, who according to Gelbakhiani initiated the meeting, not to allow the Interior Ministry to forcefully crackdown on post-election protests as they did on anti-government protestors on November 7.

Patarkatsishvili released his own statement later in the day, calling the videotape a government provocation.

The statement confirmed that Kodua had also met with Patarkatsishvili on December 23 in London; the tycoon says he made his own surreptitious recording of that meeting, which proves the government’s claims are groundless and intended to aid Saakashvili’s reelection bid. Patarkatsishvili said he is handing the evidence over to his lawyers and British authorities.

“Saakashvili showed everyone he has no chance to win through elections,” Patarkatsishvili said.

The National Security Council convened an emergency session that afternoon, as Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava denounced Patarkatsishvili as a “devil,” and warned that the country is facing a “plague.”

Following the National Security Council session, acting president Nino Burjanadze told the nation there is a “serious threat against Georgia.”

“I have said many times there are forces preparing to thwart the January 5 election,” she stated in the televised address. “Much has been done recently to intentionally build public sentiment that the election will definitely be rigged.”

She promised that the January 5 election will be fairly conducted, and called on all parties to work together to avoid a return to the destabilization and bloodshed of the early 1990s. A full investigation would be made into the alleged coup plot, she added.

Other opposition politicians cast doubt on the veracity of the tape, and the government’s claims.

“There are many questions about [the videotape],” oppositional New Rights MP Mamuka Katsitadze said. “In a time when we can’t talk freely even with our families, I can’t understand why Gelbakhiani is speaking so openly with Kodua.”

The videotape of Gelbakhiani, apparently recorded over two meetings in mid-December, was released one day after a British newspaper published Patarkatsishvili’s claim that he was the target of an assassination plot hatched by the Georgian Interior Ministry.

The Sunday Times, which is owned by News Corp, Patarkatsishvili’s business partner in his Imedi TV, released an audio tape allegedly of an Interior Ministry official contracting a Chechen warlord to kill Patarkatsishvili.

Georgian authorities have said that tape is a forgery meant to inflame the situation in the country; Gelbakhiani, in the videotaped meeting, referred to the tape as something used to “create the image” of government electoral fraud.

Gelbakhiani also told Kodua that Giorgi Targamadze, a prominent anchor and program director at Imedi TV, was instructed to play up the atmosphere of fear in the country before eventually taking on the role of political agitator.

“A new political party is being created and [Targamadze] will be the chairman,” he said.

While releasing the tape, the deputy prosecutor general also said authorities may seek to strip Gelbakhiani of his parliamentarian’s immunity and question or prosecute him on conspiracy charges.

And on December 25, authorities detained Marina Gabunia, a former Tbilisi judge who was at the videotaped meeting with Gelbakhiani and Kobua, on charges of conspiring to overthrow the state.