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Judge appoints temporal managers of Rustavi 2

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, November 9
The Judge of Tbilisi City Court Tamaz Urtmelidze, leading a legal dispute between the former and current shareholders of Rustavi 2, one of the country's largest private broadcasters, delivered a verdict several days ago temporarily depriving the current Director of the broadcaster Nika Gvaramia, and the Financial Director of Rustavi 2, Kakha Damenia, of their obligations.

The Judge made the ruling as the former owner of Rustavi 2 Qibar Khalvashi demanded that the above-mentioned individuals be forcibly distanced from the media outlet until all the legal instances delivered a final verdict over the dispute.

Khalvashi’s lawyer named the recently-leaked audio recordings on the Internet as the motivation behind the request; a conversation is heard between Gvaramia and Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili about the possibility of an alleged coup in Georgia using the Rustavi 2 case as a pretext, as they believe the ruling Government planned to use the trial to silence the opposition-minded channel.

“We wanted the process to be safe from political interference,” Khalvashi’s lawyer Paata Salia said.

The Judge met the appeal and explained that to ensure the safety of the property of the broadcaster, the current managers of Rustavi 2 would be temporarily dismissed and Davit Dvali and Revaz Sakevarishvili would fulfill their obligations.

Dvali was one of the founders of Rustavi 2 and Sakevarishvili served as one of the leading managerial figures of Imedi TV.

The Rustavi 2 leadership have the right to appeal the verdict within 30 days.

After hearing the verdict, Gvaramia held a special press conference, stressing he would not leave the broadcaster’s building. He said that “a dictatorship has been established in the country”, as the current Government wished to close the “most impartial media outlets in Georgia.”

Gvaramia also stressed that Dvali and Sakevarishvili were unsuccessful managers, bringing their media outlets to financial collapse.

In response, Khalvashi also held a press conference with the former owners of Rustavi 2 Jarji Akimidze and Davit Dvali, stressing that “no one intended to call the police and forcibly raid in the broadcaster’s building”.

Khalvashi promised protection and a safe environment for the whole staff of Rustavi 2. He also said if the judge ruled in his favour, he would give 50% of his shares to Akimidze and Dvali.

Dvali stressed that the major aim of the former owners of Rustavi 2 (who, according to him, were illegally deprived of their shares under the previous state leadership), was to make the broadcaster free from any political interference. They emphasised that Rustavi 2 was – until the court's verdict - totally controlled by the opposition United National Movement (UNM).

Later, the temporary leadership made a special appeal to the current shareholders of Rustavi 2.

They offered the current owners of the broadcaster to name “any” person to whom interim managers would grant power of attorney with full authority to perform all the executive functions required for the appropriate operation of the TV station.

However, the current shareholders rejected the proposal, saying that they would not cooperate with “Government ruled” individuals.

Government reaction

Commenting on the issue through a special statement, Georgia’s Prime Minister stressed that a “legal dispute between a former and current shareholders of a media outlet must not have any political layer”.

PM Irakli Garibashvili stated that the Government had no touch on the dispute, where all sides used their legal levers to protect their own interests.

“The Government’s obligation in this situation is to ensure the freedom of the court and the media,” Garibashvili said.

Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili stated that the court “must not be dragged into a political fight without any rules.”

“ It is unacceptable that our country’s political life be orchestrated by the Saakashvili-Khalvashi scenario. The dispute must not damage state interests,” Usupashvili said, appealing all politicians to support the court to deliver a verdict in a calm environment.

Justice Minister Thea Tsulikiani stressed that the Judge’s verdict was “constitutional”.

She added that Gvaramia was a UNM-era official who tried to “sell himself” as an impartial ruler of the broadcaster.

President’s comment

In his statement, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, stated that the legal dispute could damage the state image and he appealed to all political actors to refrain from making “non-diplomatic” statements.

Margvelashvili also addressed the Government to discuss the Rustavi 2 issue with various political parties and diplomatic representatives.

International reactions

The U.S. Embassy, EU Delegation and the Heads of Mission of the EU Member States in Georgia have delivered a joint statement.

“In light of the recent interim decision of the Constitutional Court and considering that the substantial judgment of the first instance court in the Rustavi 2 case does not envisage immediate enforcement, the preventive measures adopted on 5 November raise serious questions about the independence of the judiciary and the actual degree of freedom of the media in Georgia,” the statement said, noting that the Government and judicial institutions need to uphold the principles of media freedom and political pluralism that were an integral part of Georgia’s declared aspirations.

“We will continue to monitor developments closely and raise concerns with all relevant parties as appropriate,” they said.

Freedom House stated that the appointment of new managersat Rustavi 2 ignores orders by the Constitutional Court and undermines democracy in Georgia.

Previous developments

Tbilisi City Court delivered a verdict on the Rustavi 2 case on November 3 and ruled that the only legal owner of 100 percent of the shares of the TV Company was Qibar Khalvashi. However, a day before the City Court’s decision, the Constitutional Court declared that the enforcement could only start until the case had covered all legal instances in Georgia, hence Khalvashi can not yet take practical steps as owner of the broadcaster.

"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.

Rustavi 2 was established in 1994 by three shareholders: Dvali, Akimidze and the late Erosi Kitsmarishvili.