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Ex-owner of Rustavi 2 regains 100% of private broadcaster’s shares back

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, November 5
Tbilisi City Court delivered a verdict on the case concerning the ownership of one of Georgia’s most influential private broadcasters, Rustavi 2, on November 3.

Based on the decision made by Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze (who is frequently described as being biased against the channel by the opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), as well as the Rustavi 2 leadership), the former owner of the channel, Kibar Khalvashi, regained 100% of the shares of the broadcaster.

Khalvashi, who stated that he was deprived of Rustavi 2 shares under the previous state leadership, was also demanding compensation for financial losses sustained since losing control of the company; he also fought for the author’s rights on several intellectual properties of the broadcaster, the logo amongst them.

However, Judge Urtmelidze did not meet the last two demands.

Despite the court deciding on the verdict, it has decreed that there will not be an immediate enforcement of the ruling; the day before the trial began the Constitutional Court of Georgia ruled that verdicts would only come into effect only after the case would be discussed by all legal bodies as necessary, and both sides have declared their intent to appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals.

After the judge declared the verdict, Rustavi 2 lawyers stated that they had predicted the outcome, as according to them Urtmelidze was fulfilling the Government’s orders.

They also stated that the judge “committed professional suicide”.

Georgia’s former President, currently the Governor of Odessa in Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili, who was actively involved in the process and urged for revolution in defence of the channel, wrote on his Facebook page that the Government had “invaded the only free channel” in Georgia.

Meanwhile, Khalvashi’s lawyers were mainly happy with the verdict but said that they would also fight for the points the judge did not satisfy.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he did not know the case details as the Government was never involved in the court’s activities.

He appealed to everyone to refrain from making political statements with regards to the case.

“Media freedom is of the utmost importance for us. I know that Rustavi 2 journalists are professionals and I respect them. It is important for me that the journalists and their jobs are protected. We should all respect the court’s decision.

“I know that Rustavi 2 changed owners 20 times in the course of several years,” Garibashvili said.

"Between 2004 and 2012, Rustavi 2 changed owners approximately 20 times, often in controversial deals that had a political flavor, involving people with close links to [then] president Mikheil Saakashvili and to officials of the United National Movement-led government,” read a survey published by the non-governmental organization, Transparency International Georgia.