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10 February, 2017 14:15

The Hellish Chronicles of Iberia TV’s Rose Occupation

The criminal case is being discussed by the Tbilisi City Court

The Judge of the Tbilisi City Court, Aleksandre Iashvili has been hearing the case of forceful closure of TV Company Iberia and the seizure of its broadcasting license for several months. The examination of the evidence presented by the prosecution was resumed at yet another hearing held on the 8th of February, 2017 and one of the witnesses of the investigation, Bidzina Nizharadze gave testimony to the court. As the witness narrated, his friend Dimitri Kitoshvili, who then chaired the National Communications Regulatory Commission of Georgia, asked him to register the Iberia TV license on his name. Nizharadze defined that it was the instruction given to Kitoshvili by the authorities, though he did not specify the names of the persons in the conversations with him.

The court has already interrogated another witness of the prosecution, Davit Kakauridze, who became the owner of the 25% of the Iberia TV shares in December 2004. As Kakauridze has testified, it was Dimitri Kitoshvili, the chairperson of the National Communications Regulatory Commission, who contacted him in December 2004 and told that “some firm” would be registered in his possession. Kakauridze stressed that they had been friends since 1988, so he went to the notary office on the agreed time to sign corresponding documents, without putting additional questions.

“It was the factor of confidence. I had no idea what firm had to be registered on my name. I went to the office of notary Nunu Ginturi, where all documents were prepared in advance and I signed them without reading its contents and I left the office,” – Kakauridze said and added that only 18 months later he learnt that the case was about Iberia TV.

The court has also heard the testimony by one of the major witnesses of the prosecution, notary Nunu Ginturi – the person, who provided all the notary processing related to the transfer of the ownership of Iberia TV license to Davit Kakauridze on the 7th of December, 2004.

Nunu Ginturi recollected the developments of spring 2004 at the hearing and stated:

“The lawyers of Arkadi (Badri) Patarkatsishvili took me to the office of the Iberia TV in May 2004, located on Chubinashvili Street, where I had to provide the notary confirmation of a several million deal. There I met the head of Omega Group, Zaza Okuashvili and Besarion Keidia. As far as Keidia and Patarkatsishvili had common lawyers, I did not rule out that the late businessman (Patarkatsishvili) might be involved in that deal. The transfer of control stock was in question. Zaza Okuashvili was selling and Besarion Keidia was buying. If my memory does not fail me, it was the deal of 15 million. When I started to read the contract and reached the section of percentage, Zaza Okuashvili objected to this as he did not want to give up the control stock. Finally, when I realized that the parties could not agree, I left the premises of the TV company so that the contract was not signed,” – the witness said. She also spoke about the notary proceedings, which were provided by her afterwards, in December 2004.

The developments around Iberia TV and Omega Group in general, were the most scandalous chronicles of the so-called “Rose Terror”. It should be emphasized that the so-called Reformers, who came to the power as a result of the “Rose Revolution”, more exactly, as a result of the coup in November 2003, started to march towards authoritarianism by their assault on Omega Group. Therefore, 19th of February, 2004, is the first date of the National Movement’s violent act - the day when the riot police raided the companies of Omega Group – Omega Motors LTD, Ilioni LTD, OGT LTD, Omega 2LTD and Iberia TV Company and all their regional branches throughout the country.

It was the first shot fired against their people by the Rosy Leaders come to the power with the verses on revolution on the 21st of February, 2004 – the riot police officers, acting under the instructions and sanctions by the prosecutor general, Irakli Okruashvili, allegedly searching for non-excise cigarette and counterfeit excise marks in the Omega offices, fired towards the company staff, who had assembled outside the company’s office in Vashlijvari district to protect their organization. Luckily, they missed, though the bullet damaged the gas pipe passing along the company office causing the danger of blast. Despite of this proof, Gia Baramidze, who then was the minister of interior and who still represents the National Movement, categorically denied the fact of shooting towards the crowd and praised the mission of the riot police as “good”. “We’ll keep on acting this way”, - Baramidze told journalists.

Finally, the public protest somehow compelled the Rose Leaders to admit to the fact of shooting, after which they pledged to investigate that, mildly to say, “incident”, though the promise was not kept, because the detective of the prosecutors’ office, Temur Natelashvili, after having manually examined the size of the bullet hole on the gas pipe, reached the “verdict” that the “pipe was not damaged by the bullet of riot police officer”. After years and following the change of the government, Temur Natelashvili said that the episode of the bullet hole was not significant and it had to be investigated by the military prosecution (!).

As the dictatorship of the National Movement ends, the memory would fail not only Natelashvili, but other participants of the 204 developments as well, at least the lawyer Otar Kakhidze, who is currently defending the interests of that-time prosecutor general Zurab Adeishvili and who is, by the way, the member of the parliament today, would “baptize” the investigation of the Omega Group’s case as “a nonsense” and try to convince the society that his defendant, Adeishvili, who fled Georgia after the October 2012 elections, had not committed a crime towards the Iberia TV, even though the witnesses are still asserting that Adeishvili and his deputy, Giorgi Latsabidze, were in the Avant Garde of the Iberia TV’s license seizure.

It’s quite reasonable to presume that the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili was the mastermind of all those developments, however, the compilation of the testimonies given by the witnesses and other evidence, has so far led to the criminal prosecution of Adeishvili and Latsabidze under the Article 333 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. This article of the GCC implies exceeding official powers and if the court recognizes them guilty, Adeishvili and Latsabidze will be sent to prison. By the way, Giorgi Latsabidze, unlike Adeishvili, is in Georgia and usually attends the court hearings. Initially, the prosecutor’s office was seeking for $20 thousand bail against Latsabidze, however, the court rejected the motion and bailed Latsabidze against $5 thousands.

The court has not interrogated defendant Latsabidze so far, which increases the interest about the arguments that the former deputy prosecutor may voice to justify himself. It is also of great interest what Dimitri Kitoshvili, who was the chairperson of the National Communications Regulatory Commission, may tell the court as one of the major witnesses of the prosecution. There are some unconfirmed reports that Kitoshvili has already pled guilty, however neither Iberia TV lawyer, nor the representative of the Prosecutor’s office have yet confirmed the fact of confession. Nevertheless, former notary Ginturi has sharply described the role of Kitoshvili in this case – she has not denied that on the 7th of December, 2004, i.e. the day of Iberia TV license seizure, Dimitri Kitoshvili was present at her office.

According to the testimonies given by the witnesses and eyewitnesses, on the 7th of December, 2004, when the representatives of the Omega Group went to the notary Ginturi’s office on Kostava Street, Kitoshvili and his friend Davit Kakauridze, dentist by profession, were also present. Ginturi and Kitoshvili had a separate conversation and only after their “Last Supper” the representatives of Omega Group and Kakauridze signed the notary agreement prepared in advance.

By the way, in 2013, when the Main Prosecutor’s Office launched the investigation of the “Rose Crime” committed against Omega Group and the case of Iberia TV was separated, notary Ginturi used to abstain from commenting on the developments of 2004 and was rather sarcastic when the issue was about Kitoshvili’s involvement in the bargain - she cynically would say “maybe Kitoshvili had a crash on me and that’s why he used to come to my office”, however, as they say, afterwards she “reversed the record” and “blabbed out” everything.

The background: Georgia’s Main Prosecutor’s Office had been investigating the case of Iberia TV Company’s license seizure for three years and the investigation included interrogations of numerous witnesses; the founders of Omega Group and consequently, Iberia TV, have also testified. The case was sent to the court in summer 2016, while the investigation of the cases of other companies of Omega Group, that also suffered loss – Omega Motors, Ilioni, OGT and Omega 2, is still in progress.

To generalize, the compilation of evidence makes it obvious that the seizure of Iberia license was aimed at starting pressure on the founders of Omega Group. The censorship was a kind of trend in the Georgian media of that period – media holders and journalists abstained from criticizing the Rose Government, while Iberia TV used to make live reports on the developments of February 2004, that probably annoyed the “Rose Leadership” and all this pushed them to make a fatal mistake by armed assault on Iberia TV along with the occupation of other companies of Omega Group.

Though the riot police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs left the television after a while, this raid outlined that the Nationals, who came to the power in the aegis of democracy, would never let the freedom of speech work. Sadly, only a small part of the community realized this threat, because if the journalistic corps had been unanimous in condemning the “national occupation” of Iberia TV, Saakashvili’s team would be shaken a little and through those nine years in power, they would not have the feeling like “it’s all up to me”.

From today’s review, one thing is obvious: had the business elite voiced its protest for the protection of Omega Group, there would be no faulty practice of “gifts” to the state, seizure of property or “willful transfer of ownership” in prisons. Actually, Zaza Okuashvili was the only one, who refused to give up his business and that’s why he was sent to the “Hell of Roses”!

Indeed, those 11 months, when the Omega Group’s companies were occupied by the riot police, was the real hell – beyond the suspended businesses, the gunmen used to raid the offices damaging and breaking down the office equipment! Based on the evidence presented by the lawyers, Ioseb Baratashvili and Shalva Shavgulidze, the Mtatsminda-Krtsanisi Court ruled that the riot police had to leave the premises of the Omega Group’s companies on the 5th of July, 2005, though the ruling was ignored and the masked gunmen stayed there for next few months.

Omega Group suffers tremendous loss

In September 2004, an intentional tax inspection was launched in all companies of the Omega Group, however, the primary allegation – non-excise cigarette and counterfeit excise marks were no longer on the agenda. Finally, the National Controllers charged the Omega Group with 23 million tax, despite the lack of proof, and started to bargain on the Iberia TV.

“The detective of our case, Bakur Chikovani gave me a phone call and told that I was summoned by the Prosecutor General, however, I saw only deputy prosecutor Giorgi Latsabidze in the office. I remember Latsabidze saying that the issue of television had to be resolved in order to uproot all problems. I asked what the “issue to be resolved” meant. He answered that a new founder would join the group of founders of the television, who would defect from the same group the next day and take away the license as his share,” – one of the witnesses has testified.

The further developments were carried out in line with the “Nationals’ Schedule” and on the 7th of December, 2004, notary Ginturi signed a notary agreement between the representatives of Omega Group and a person named Davit Kakauridze, according to which Kakauridze became the owner of the 25% of the Ilioni company shares in Iberia TV. Kakauridze had to pay just 500 lari for those 25% symbolically, however, as the lawyer of Omega Group, Davit Asatiani says, dentist Kakauridze paid nothing; simultaneously, within the same hours, Kakauridze transfers his 25% shares of the television to Omega Motors and instead, by founding Aisi LTD, takes away the television’s broadcasting license. The next step was the transfer of the 100% of the Aisi LTD to Bidzina Nizharadze on the 24th of February, 2006 and in 2007, on the 12th of Septemer, Bidzina Nizharadze transfers the 100% of his shares in Aisi LTD, to Ioseb Mgeladze. According to the documents, on the 12th of February, 2012, Ioseb Mgeladze transferred his 100% of shares in Aisi LTD to Georgian Media Production LTD, which was integrated into the Imedi TV Company in 2011.

It is worth noting that Aisi LTD changed the profile of the general broadcasting license of the Iberia TV, which the television staff had earlier purchased through auction, and as a result, Aisi LTD became an entertainment channel, which never started broadcast – it was the violation, for which the regulatory commission did not seek for anybody’s responsibility.

The Rose Occupation of Iberia ended four years ago – the seized license, which was of general broadcasting mode in 2004, was returned to its legal owners modified (specialized/entertainment) in 2013. Iberia reemerged in Georgian TV space one year ago, with general broadcasting, while the hearings are still in progress in Georgian Court.

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