TBILISI, DFWatch–Two judges in the Supreme Court of the former Soviet republic of Georgia have filed a formal request to the country’s top prosecutor to investigate an attempt to influence them.
The case led to an exchange of strong claims and counterclaims on Friday, between the government and proponents of the former National Movement government.
Since the two judges themselves have not yet commented, it was unclear exactly who has tried to pressure them in a lawsuit over who shall control the television Rustavi 2, the major opposition media outlet in Georgia and a thorn in the side of the ruling party.
The Prosecutor General’s Office (POG) said in a statement on Friday that it has launched a probe into alleged interference into the professional activities of two Supreme Court judges reviewing the Rustavi 2 TV case.
According to the statement, the two Supreme Court judges, Besarion Arveladze and Paata Katamadze, who are presiding in the Rustavi 2 case, appealed to the POG on January 14, claiming that they had received letters to their home addresses, as well as short text messages (SMS) from unrecognized mobile numbers on behalf of one particular unnamed former government official, the identity of whom has not been released.
In these mails and SMSs ‘there were signs of attempted interference in their activities’, the POG statement says.
“At this stage a number of investigative actions were carried out and an intensive investigation is continuing. Every necessary investigative steps will be carried out to investigate the alleged interference with the activities of the Supreme Court judges”, the Office said.
Rustavi 2 is the largest Georgian TV channel by audience and is strongly in opposition to the current government. The channel has been embroiled in litigation over its ownership in a draw-out case the opposition claims is an attempt by the government to take over and mute their main news outlet.
Rustavi 2’s director Nika Gvaramia said at a press conference that there has been immense pressure on the judges to make them rule against the TV channel. Gvaramia called on all independent and pro-Western media in Georgia to express their solidarity.
He said the two judges really applied to the POG but they complained about pressure from the State Security Agency (SUSI) to rule in favour of Kibar Khalvashi, a businessman and former owner of Rustavi 2. The management of Rustavi 2 claim Khalvashi is backed by the government.
The Rustavi 2 director claimed that the judges presiding in the Rustavi 2 case were told to either withdraw their application on pressure from POG or to change the names of those accused of pressure.
Gvaramia accused all branches of the government, except the president, of involvement in possibly criminal activity against the judges.
“For the first time in the history of Georgia we are dealing with a case when Supreme Court judges expose the system from the inside and speak about pressure exerted on them”, Gvaramia said.
The Rustavi 2 director, who has previously been minister of justice and minister of science and education, as well as deputy prosecutor general during Saakashvili’s reign, said at the press conference that he has kept silent about the truth until the final vote on visa liberalization in the European Parliament, which was yesterday, because it is a very sensitive issue concerning freedom of the media and justice, but now that the process is complete, he asks Nino Gvenetadze, Chairwoman of the Supreme Court, to raise her voice and protect her judges.
“She stands on the side of the government, not the judges of this court. She sent the case to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the next day the strongest form of pressure was exerted on the judges. They were requested to withdraw their complaint about pressure from the Prosecutor General’s Office to change the names of those accused of pressure. They were requested to name not the representatives of the government, but the persons allegedly associated with us, such as ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his political co-thinkers”, Gvaramia said.
Since the Appeals Court in Georgia upheld a decision by Tbilisi City Court to transfer ownership of the largest opposition TV station, Rustavi 2, to Kibar Khalvashi, a former owner who claimed that Rustavi 2 was forcibly appropriated from him by the National Movement government, the dispute over the case has been continuing in the Supreme Court.
Khalvashi, who considers himself the legal owner of the company, sued the current owners on August 4, 2015 demanding USD 500,000 in compensation from the company. He also demanded to abolish the property of the current owners and recognize that 60 percent of shares belong to him and 40 percent to Panorama Ltd. Later, the amount of compensation was increased to USD 18 million.