Zaza Okuashvili: - “Developments of 2004 were a hard test we passed successfully”
How a doctor by profession succeeded in business and why has he returned to politics? – this is what the founder of Omega Group has never talked about publicly
The founder of Omega Group, Zaza Okuashvili, who won his MP mandate at the Supreme Council of the Adjara Autonomous Republic as the member of the Patriots’ Alliance of Georgia, talks about the developments of 2004, when the riot police raided the companies of his Omega Group and the television Iberia, in the interview with Prime Time magazine and states that “the way it all happened had been premeditated.” It is worth noting that the offices of Omega Group companies were occupied by the riot police almost for a year, until the forceful seizure of the Iberia TV broadcasting license.
“Omega Group was a successful and flourishing business in different sectors then, the way it is today. This was the reason of their envy and attempt to force the owner of this successful business to his knees,” says Zaza Okuashvili and when asked who envied him, Saakashvili or any of his allies, he answers:
“Envy was the feature of the Nationals’ policy, their entire administration and each of their member, therefore, their behavior was harmonized and mutually supported.
The journalist of the magazine also touches the developments of November 2003 and asks Okuashvili why he did not support the Rose Revolution.
“The Rose Revolution was supported almost by whole Georgia, at least people hoped that this revolution was happening for better future, but I knew from the very beginning that it was not what the people were expecting to happen,” –Zaza Okuashvili says and when the journalist asks if he had expected to become the first victim of the “rosy terror”, he says “It was not quite unexpected, but it was absolutely unimaginable that it would go so far.”
Zaza Okuashvili says there were some offers before the raid to Iberia TV and other companies of Omega Group, which he did not accept. He defines that the offer was exactly what happened afterwards: “Primarily, they tried to oppress successful and fair business and then – to stage a show, after which we should give up our shares. Such messages had been sent before the raid by the riot police.
The founder of Omega Group and the Adjara Supreme Council MP tells the magazine that everything began with the television, “but then, as well as today, it was all so transparent. Actually, television is not the business, which funds itself, that is why we should refer to Iberia and all other businesses run by Omega Group as one. Therefore, they went through each of those businesses starting from the television ending with the smallest firm.
The journalist also asks why Omega Group gave away the television’s broadcasting license.
“We did not make any kind of deal with them and neither did we give away our shares…When they started to talk about money, we said that we would not pay anything to any foundation, but only to the state budget.
- You mean they told you to transfer money to that controversial foundation of the prosecutor’s office?
- The prosecutor’s office never had any kind of foundation. It was the fund of the ruling party then.
- It means they told you expressly to contribute to the National Movement’s fund?
- Well, we knew nothing about other funds then… some day we had to resume our work and after a year of the police raid we decided to transfer the sum they calculated somehow to the state budget.
- It was 23 million as I remember, was not it?
- And they also took away the product and sold it…
-Do you mean cigarette?
-Not only…They took away television equipment, broke down and destroyed machines at cigarette plant and printing house…and these actions were aimed at seizing the television, what they could not do without our consent…
- What was the amount of damage incurred to you?
- The damage amounted to tens of millions…
- After the change of the government, the main prosecutor’s office launched investigation of those crimes on the basis of Omega Group’s claim. Though the Iberia TV episode was separated from the case and the City Court is considering it right now, the investigation of other crimes committed within the Rosy Terror against other companies of the Omega Group is still in progress. Mr. Zaza, are you demanding reimbursement of the damage or anybody’s punishment? And, in general, do you hope for doing justice?
- Now and even before the change of the government I was deeply convinced that the time would come when the culprit would be identified! This is necessary not only for Omega Group, but for the development of our statehood too!”
In the interview Zaza Okuashvili says that the Nationals afterwards indirectly offered him to return the Iberia broadcasting license:
“It was not an express offer and may be it was more like their wish, but I did not look deeper in that wish or investigate whose offer it was. To cut it short, I rejected that offer, because in that state the television should either praise the government or shut down again; so the return of the license was senseless.
Zaza Okuashvili states that the system established by the Nationals was an obstruction not only for him, but for the country in general. “They were building socialism. Socialism is an obstruction for capitalism and hinders its development… Unfortunately, some individuals usually grown bolder with the power people give them, they feel no limits and so they take this path! There is the responsibility of the society in all this!” – Zaza Okuashvili says in the long interview with Prime Time, of which Medianews has selected the most important excerpts.
- You had international partners, to say it roughly, a “western roof”, but the Nationals ignored them too. Why?
- They ignored everything, because their “roofs” or “umbrellas” were their revolutionary rise to power, i.e. they tried to cover each of their inept wish or action with that revolutionary wave.
- As I know, you had good relations with western political and business circles. Did not you explain to them what and how the rose government used to do?
- The West wanted to change the stagnation in Georgia so everybody used to say after the revolution that the changes had been started, “we should wait and the time will show the right and the wrong”; in addition, it was the government elected by people and the West could not interfere directly in its governance; however, my western partners realized the situation and had numerous attempts to contact the president or prime minister, while from Georgia, the only attempt was to substitute us. The government used to offer other successful partners from Georgia if they forgot Okuashvili…
- Mr. Zaza, you are a doctor by profession. In the second half of the 1990-s, briefly after the civil war and when the country was in chaos, why did you decide to go to business?
- A new wave of life, so to say, came then.
- Yes, but where is the link between business and medicine? Shall I believe that business needs no special education and everything is just the matter of instinct and luck?
- (Smiles) Instinct is really necessary and by the way, I cannot deny that my medical education was great help for me in business. My education and experience in the medical sphere really helped me. Actually, doctors had many problems then – I don’t know whether I shall call “salary” why I was paid then…
- Do you remember your salary as the doctor?
- The salary was paid in coupons then.
- Well, as I guess, hard days pushed you to business. What was your first business?
- First I thought I could start a bakery in parallel with being a doctor and my dad used to joke then that I wore white gowns in business like in medical career. The business of bread bakery was developed and I added other businesses to it. So I no longer had time for medicine - business prevailed with its action and result and eventually I gave up the profession of doctor.
- Why did you give up bread business if it was successful?
- Well, I saw the possibility to develop in other business too… Actually, when you are in business, you move to the larger business every time.
- After all, do you think you are lucky?
- Luck is necessary for any success.
- Have you ever missed being a doctor since you are in business?
- (Loughs out loud) Of course I have, especially now, when I see that being a doctor has become a very successful profession! In general, I have spent great time and energy for this profession…
- Did you enter the medical faculty after finishing the school?
- No, first I finished a technical college.
- Had you dreamt of being a doctor in your childhood or you just chose this profession because it was fashionable?
- Well, I am fond of handling difficulties. In those years entering medical institute and academy of arts was most difficult, but the academy of art needed special talent, that’s why I decided to enter medical university. I was a good pupil at school, especially in technical subjects, added to this, my mother is a doctor, dad was an engineer.
- Once you say you are fond of handling difficulties, you mean that the developments of 2004 have strengthened you?
- Of course, I think that I passed this difficult test successfully.
- Your next step after becoming a businessman, was to go to politics. What pushed you to take this step?
- The reason was my interest to the success of my country. I wanted to take steps, which would help my country and people live better and more successfully. I cannot say that with my businesses I had not been in politics before becoming an MP, as I served to the same goals with my business then. Our contribution to the state budget was huge - our total contribution to the state budget is 1,5 billion GEL.
- You have returned to politics after a few year time out – you are the MP of the Adjara Supreme Council. Mr. Zaza, do you think you are protected from “black PR”?
- People may not see me every day and I don’t have such an interest – I am a man of business but I don’t expect a new wave of black PR again, because people can now evaluate my work for my people and nation.
- Why did you choose the Adjara Supreme Council?
- I love Adjara very much and I have done a lot for it. In the period, when the central budget suspended funds to Adjara, in fact I was the only businessman, who paid taxes both to the central budget and that of the Adjara autonomous republic and it was really great help for Adjara then. So is today – I do my best to help people live better. As for the Patriots’ Alliance, earlier I was the member of the Traditionalists. These two ideas are very close to each other. Besides, I have been acquainted with Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi for a long time and I acceped his offer… It is not necessary to work in ruling party, opposition can also do good things.
- When asked by the journalist whether he was leftist of rightist, Zaza Okuashvili answered that it was quite difficult to draw a border-line between the two: “When it comes to a worker, I will stand beside the worker and I am a leftist then, but when it comes to the protection of an owner’s rights, I will support the owner. Do you know what the advantage of our generation is? We were grown up in the leftist epoch and now we live in the different epoch, I mean we know both ideologies and each of them has its positive sides – from socialist we can take the ideas that can help people. At least the discipline and the approach to education was absolutely different in socialism and all this motivates people. Being rightist has its advantages too – for example, democracy and independence. So, we should use best of the features of these two ideologies for the progress of our nation.”
The MP of the Adjara Supreme Council says he welcomes globalism, but every person has its share of responsibility: “We cannot copy everything from Europe with closed eyes, we should take into consideration our economic and geographic traditions and we must be able to protect our interests by means of freedom and democracy. I mean, that it is unacceptable to change our future and political and economic success on things we don’t know.”
The journalist also questions the respondent about his family life and asks if his spouse, MP Nato Chkheidze fill each other.
“Of course, family means a lot – it gives you great power and it is the guarantee of success! It is difficult to achieve success unless a couple has common vision and similar character!
- This means you are lucky to have met Mrs. Nato?
- Yes, I am lucky indeed… We try to make our family fair and exemplary!”
“Omega Group was nominated as the Investor of the Year 2016. Journalists International Foundation Golden Feather awarded Zaza Okuashvili with the Golden Feather for his special contribution to the struggle of freedom of media,” – says the article and asks the respondent if those awards were kind of compensation for 2004.
- “Such recognition is of course very pleasant. By the way, I was individually recognized as the investor of the year, but Omega Group was separately awarded with the Golden Feather. These awards are particularly important for me, because I don’t have embarrassing relation with free speech and I welcome that the journalists appreciated what we have passed through!” – says the founder of Omega Group, currently the MP of the Adjara Supreme Council Zaza Okuashvili in his interview with Prime Time Magazine.