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Accusations of Political Intimidation after Police Raid Cartu Bank

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, October 20
The police seized a “large amount” of cash belonging to billionaire politician Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Tbilisi-based Cartu Bank, on October 18

According to Ivanishvili’s press service, Cartu Bank’s cash-in-transit vehicle was stopped by police while it was transporting money from the Bank of Georgia’s headquarters close to Freedom Square, the vehicle was seized, money taken and six employees of the Cartu Bank accompanying the vehicle arrested, including four female cashiers.

Before this statement was released, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) posted on its website a brief statement saying that several individuals with an “especially large amount of cash” were arrested in connection to money laundering.

The statement did not provide any other details.

Ivanishvili’s press office said in a statement that this “coercive measure” was “an attack on Cartu Bank” and personally on Ivanishvili.

“The Georgian authorities have launched an open, aggressive and criminal attack against Bidzina Ivanishvili,” the statement reads. “We demand the immediate release of the illegally arrested persons and the return of the seized property belonging to Cartu Bank.”

Later the lawyer Lili Gelashvili said that the detained were questioned without lawyers and witnesses were forced to waive their right to a lawyer. At the same time, she mentioned that the six members of Cartu Bank were later released.

The same day 10 members of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s guard gave up arms upon the demand of MIA security police department, Gelashvili stated.

The people were employees of the security police department who worked with businessman Ivanishvili as per an agreement. They were told that the “security police do not have the right to carry arms to protect citizens of a foreign country”, the lawyer said.

She says that they will continue to guard Ivanishvili but without weapons.

Opposition parties, even those which are not collaborating with Ivanishvili assessed these incidences as unacceptable and deliberate pressure on Ivanishvili. Irakli Alasania, Leader of Our Georgia- Free Democrats called it "governmental extremism" against Ivanishvili. According to him, this was to be expected, however the authorities would not manage to intimidate Ivanishvili and the opposition.

The Republican Party declared unequivocally that Mikheil Saakashvili and his team's desire to bar Bidzina Ivanishvili from the political process by criminal methods is another attempt to kill the healthy political process. "We realize there are many dangers when you take this route, this way is extremely risky, there are a lot of barriers ahead, though we are used to fighting. The Republicans along with Bidzina Ivanishvili are going to fight the dangers and take the country out of deadlock," the party statement reads.

The Georgian government’s steps towards Ivanishvili are unacceptable also for the Christian Democrats, a party disliked by Ivanishvili. As the leader of the movement, Giorgi Targamadze, said, the government is acting aggressively, “by taking Ivanishvili to the place where the government feels most comfortable – into the street - I hope the people who are next to Ivanishvili today will avoid such a challenge. Our [Targamadze and Ivanishvili] opinions differ on many issues, including the media, political parties and experts, though we are interested in Bidzina Ivanishvili having his place in Georgian politics and creating more competitive electoral-political environment”, Targamadze said.

A different attitude comes from the majority representatives, as a member of the ruling party, Nugzar Tsiklauri, told The Messenger, opposition parties are trying to politicize the issue, when there are concrete legal issues. "Such attitudes from the opposition where they try to politicize concrete criminal and juridical issues make us think that they do not have some other means to persuade the people what they are claiming. Such attitudes will not assist the creation of a healthy environment in the country," Tsiklauri stated and added that all these issues, from the seizure of citizenship, to the Cartu Bank arrests are concrete criminal cases and statements would be made when investigations were over and the court had made a final decision.

The same assessment has been voiced by another majority representative, Khatuna Ochiauri, who claims that "no political repressions have ever had place in the frame of the current leadership of Georgia."