Zaza Okuashvili in the studio of talk show Priority with Maka Razmadze
Maka Razmadze: The founder of Omega Group and Iberia TV, Zaza Okuashvili is in our studio tonight. Welcome Mr. Zaza, thanks for being our guest tonight.
Zaza Okuashvili: Hello.
Maka Razmadze: We’ve all heard the statement made by the Prosecutor’s Office today. What is your impression? Are you satisfied?
Zaza Okuashvili: Of course, I can’t be discontented, the outcome is positive, the investigation has been effective and the culprit have been brought to justice.
Maka Razmadze: However, nobody has been arrested so far.
Zaza Okuashvili: This is not our prerogative; everything will be in accordance with the law. The process is positive not only for me, for us, for Iberia and Omega Group, but for whole Georgia. This process was underway and this is not the first case, such processes are taking place, but this is a high-profile case, that’s why this process and its result are visible.
Maka Razmadze: Mr. Irakli Nadareishvili made a statement in this studio a few minutes ago that we may soon see the result of the investigation on the Omega case too. What would you say about this? What do you expect?
Zaza Okuashvili: Expectations are of course very positive after these processes that we’ve been observing and based on this example. We expect that this case will be also completed, settled and the culprit will be revealed and this is very important for the country.
Maka Razmadze: So you mean you trust the investigation.
Zaza Okuashvili: Of course I do. The country should know that not a single state official will be left unaccountable and that the law is the law for all. Our expectations are always positive after the processes we are observing, the environment of investments and etc.
Maka Razmadze:The main question that was heard today is why Irakli Okruashvili has not been charged for this crime. What’s your position, do you have questions towards the prosecutor’s office or to Okruashvili in person?
Zaza Okuashvili: I really had questions to Irakli Okruashvili when I had a chance to meet him of course.
Maka Razmadze: Where did you meet him? What kind of meeting did you have?
Zaza Okuashvili: There was a meeting. He was at the US embassy and I was there, too. I greeted him; we had never met before, but we knew each other after these high-profile processes. I wanted to approach him and look into his face. I told him that it was my first opportunity to talk to him.
Maka Razmadze: Did you approach him?
Zaza Okuashvili: Yes, I did, I went to him and we looked into each other’s face.
Maka Razmadze: What was his reaction when he saw you?
Zaza Okuashvili: An ordinary reaction. He greeted me, he asked how my business was going on; as for his participation in the legal proceedings, he was on the position of prosecutor general for a short period of time; indeed, he raided our office, and the storming of Iberia was commanded by him, he headed the case, but for a very short period of time. Now we are talking about for example why Okruashvili was not charged. We can also say the party, in the interests of which this case was and we can talk about higher ranks, right? But it’s hard for me to say how the law and justice would act against him for that short period of time. This is up to lawyers and law enforcers. That process in our office lasted for a year and imagine, our office then turned into a military base with 200 soldiers stationed inside, especially in Vashlijvari office and the factory. They worked in shifts and they were “employed” in the factory and the printing house. How did they work there? They drove the auto-cars and destroyed everything with it, they were destroying cars; everything we had created was damaged and destroyed and Okruashvili was not in the office in that period. After my numerous rejections of their offer during those three months I was here, they realized that I fled the country; they started to destroy all this.
Maka Razmadze: Mr. Zaza, why do you think you became their target then? What was their goal – destroy your business or you? What was their ultimatum and who voiced it? Had you faced the same threats before? Mr. Irakli [Nadareishvili] said the oppression began in 2002 and it continued later.
Zaza Okuashvili: The influence of political party interests really had started before the revolution and we know this. It was support to this processes, handing over the power and offices.
Maka Razmadze: So you mean it all started in the period of Shevardnadze?
Zaza Okuashvili: The investigation was always in progress, it was a profitable theme, but the investigation that had started before, was already completed, but they launched it again, because they did not find other business to storm, though all in vain – this is what we can say from today’s reality. As for the goal and reason? The reason was the freedom of speech, our disobedience. The television would not obey their actions because we knew who we were dealing with. We would not cooperate with them. We’ve always cooperated, we are cooperating and we will cooperate only with our people, who have a right to hear the truth.
Maka Razmadze: There was a pressure we remember, for example, they were demanding to dismiss Luba Eliashvili and to close her show.
Zaza Okuashvili: We were one of the examples of a successful business, which had television, mass media, newspaper, magazine, printing house, factory, enterprise, news agency and we had more business plans. It was a very good example to demonstrate political oppression and persecution, oppression of truth and future, of right direction and we were used for this.
Maka Razmadze: Did they urge you to dismiss the news department chief Luba Eliashvili and close her show?
Zaza Okuashvili: They did everything, starting from what you are watching now – shootings, oppression, persecution, ultimatums, which we rejected, because we believed that our truth one day would find its way and the justice was coming and it has arrived here, 12 years later.
Maka Razmadze: Along with the involvement of government in those processes, which the prosecutor’s office confirmed today, in fact it was also proved that the Patarkatsishvili family was also connected to it somehow, but how? Did you meet them at all? Did they offer you anything? Did you feel a threat from them?
Zaza Okuashvili: I had met Badri [Patarkatsishvili] earlier, but I got acquainted with him during these processes. I don’t think I should touch the issue now, because the proceedings are in progress and I don’t want to interrupt, and also, this person is no longer alive, unfortunately. He has his opinion about those developments.
Maka Razmadze: What do you mean?
Zaza Okuashvili: He shared his point of view regarding those developments with me.
Maka Razmadze: So you confirm that you met him?
Zaza Okuashvili: We had meetings and he had his vision how to solve the problems, which I did not share, I did not accept his ideas and so we parted.
Maka Razmadze: Did you know that Patarkatsishvili’s family was involved in the process of taking over your broadcasting license?
Zaza Okuashvili: I did not know and I don’t know it even today, but to be honest, I was not surprised when our license was found on the account of Imedi. To what extent his family was involved in that process, I can’t say. I only know that we then reached an agreement. Iberia filed a lawsuit at the court, but we made a deal with the family before the trials began. We have regained our license, which is in our hands today.
Maka Razmadze: What was the role of Kibar Khalvashi [the owner of rustavi2] in this case?
Zaza Okuashvili: I met Kibar Khalvashi once and he also had his approach to the problem, too. The process was very difficult indeed, the soldiers were already inside the company and etc. Then I decided that his position was not acceptable for me either.
Maka Razmadze: What was Khalvashi demanding? What did he urge you to do?
Zaza Okuashvili: He had his approach and opinion. There is nothing else to say because the episode has been already investigated, this is the episode of Iberia. I don’t think we should go into details.
Maka Razmadze: Mr. Zaza, what was the goal – to take over your business or did the politics matter? You and your spouse, Mrs. Nato Chkheidze were both members of the parliament then. Was it a political pressure or extortion?
Zaza Okuashvili: There were a lot of main reasons, everything together. We had big success in that period, we were popular, to cut it short, it was intended as a show to force us to our knees.
Maka Razmadze: Let us touch one more issue - your name was discussed among the candidates of prime minister and there was such an offer, indirect, but the issue was on the agenda. Could this be another reason?
Zaza Okuashvili: To be honest, I can’t recollect anything like that. Are you sure?
Maka Razmadze: There were rumors among journalists.
Zaza Okuashvili: And did I say no?
Maka Razmadze: I don’t know, I’d like to clarify this with you and that’s why I am asking if there was such an offer, because there was presumptions that one of the reasons of oppression on you was your possible appointment.
Zaza Okuashvili: I have rather simple attitude to this. I was popular then, but the political reason was the independent television which stayed beyond the influence of narrow political interests and I believe it was quite a sufficient reason for oppression, but what was going in lobbies I have no idea.
Maka Razmadze: And the last question: you re-opened this television and we are here 12 years later; Iberia TV has returned and do you think that this television will become a new headache for you; are there new risks? Why did you do this? Why did you need the business, which became a great problem for you years ago?
Zaza Okuashvili: The reason was the same and media was one of them. This is what we mean in free speech – newspaper, magazine, television and etc. We had all this and to be honest, now they say, yes we gave up the license in order to let our other businesses continue to operate, but what was the sense of having that license then? The license is under the state control and they would somehow find a reason to take it away. We would have this process permanently, so we gave the license up. Why did we regain it? We did this because of our motto – to take part in the development of our country in a positive direction and we believe that it’s our duty to tell people truth, our ideas and not only ours, but others as well and when we disapprove any process, we should have an opportunity to say that we don’t approve and say “we like” when we approve. All this needs a bravery too. In the epicenter of shooting I was saying that Omega would find its way, Omega would survive and overcome this. I only gave recommendations to people, to businessmen how to act, though it was a very difficult topic then. You could not tell others how difficult it was to have soldiers in the office and still remain firm on the position, even though I was doing and saying that: - Don’t give up anything, don’t give them anything, though I knew that they would take all this anyway, they would storm our families. Today I can say that the processes are going well and we have to support it, we should have honesty and bravery to support progress for Georgia’s happy and really good future.