TBILISI, DFWatch – They have taken away his citizenship, accused his bank of laundering money, arrested a friend of his son and disarmed his bodyguards, but in all of these cases the authorities in Georgia are not commenting beyond stating the facts.
Since he almost two weeks ago set out on a mission to remove president Mikheil Saakashvili from power, Bidzina Ivanishvili is increasingly finding himself besieged. But the Saakashvili government responds only with dry, minimalistic comments, while the three national TV stations are papering over what is happening.
A dozen foreign diplomats were sluiced in and out of Ivanishvili’s futuristic Tbilisi residence today, but would not tell members of the press what they had been talking with the tycoon about.
They might have been responding to his call to foreign diplomats two days earlier for an immediate response to Tuesday’s armed police raid against one of his bank’s money transports. Cartu Group is now demanding the return of Cartu Bank’s vehicle and the cash it was carrying as police busted the van along with six bank employees.
Initial statements form the Interior Ministry reported about an arrest of “several persons” on a charge of laundering a large amount of money, and that a vehicle containing cash was confiscated.
The ministry said an investigation has started, and cited the third part of section 194 of the country’s criminal code, dealing with “large quantity of money laundering”.
The raid took place at Freedom Square, outside Bank of Georgia’s headquarters in the heart of the capital. It is reported that one million euro and two million dollars was confiscated in the raid.
Cartu Bank cashiers Inga Javakhia, Irma Ketishvili, Lia Magradze and Nato Davituliani were detained. The money collectors Archil Japarashvili and Zaza Kavelashvili were also detained, but released after being questioned as witnesses.
The press secretary of Bidzina Ivanishvili considers the raid an aggressive and criminal attack on the businessman and is demanding a refund for the money which police confiscated.
Nodar Javakhishvili, president of Cartu Bank explained that the money which was collected from Bank of Georgia by the Cartu Bank van had to do with reinforcement between the two banks and has no connection with money laundering.
“Today, commercial banks are reinforcing each other, so a bank has non-cash money, but needs cash bonds. It was an ordinary operation between Cartu Bank and Bank of Geogia. The bank’s intention was to conduct non-cash money as cash,” Nodar Javakhishvili says.
According to him, the money in question was being transferred between Cartu Bank and Bank of Georgia’s accounts with foreign banks. In the first case an account in Euros with German Commerzbank, and in the second case from Deutche Bank’s New York account to an account at City Bank.
“If non-cash money is ‘black’, why attack a money van? Investigate it over in Germany or in the USA. They want to terrorize the bank, scare the customers or take the money. The money van had not even left Bank of Georgia’s territory; the cashiers were still inside the building. We were in their building, on their territory, why don’t they make any comment?” Javakhishvili asks and adds that he is demanding a refund for the van and the cash.
“Three million can’t really harm the Bank, but in case the money isn’t refunded, we will have to apply for reinforcement from the National Bank or other commercial banks. But I need a guarantee that other workers will not be detained. The National Bank is obliged to protect a commercial bank from [the consequences of] criminal actions,” the president of Cartu Bank explains.
Later it emerged that the National Bank of Georgia is sending people over to check how Cartu Bank is being run. The National Bank will study the situation in Cartu Bank only by entering the bank itself, according to the statement released by Georgian National Bank.
On another front of the businessman’s besiegment, Levan Mdinaradze was released on bail today. Also known as DJ Rembo, he is a friend of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s rapper son who has campaigned in support of his father by spreading a music video over the internet which has garnered several thousand supporters on Facebook.
Mdinaradze was released against ten thousand Georgian lari in bail. He was detained Tuesday on a drug charge, more specifically under the first part of section 260 of Georgia’s Criminal Code, which deals with illegal purchase or possession of drugs.
Mdinaradze has used his right to remain silence and does not plead guilty, according to his lawyer Shalva Tadumadze, who says the bail amount was requested by the prosecutor’s office. The bail must be paid within 45 days, and the trial is set to start December 7.
As the three government-controlled TV station are doing their best to ignore the businessman’s travails, he has had one further brush with the Georgian police, who took away his bodyguards’ weapons. According to the Interior Ministry, this follows automatically from the fact that Ivanishvili lost his citizenship (which in turn authorities said followed automatically from that Ivanishvili published an open letter October 7).
Georgia has a state monopoly on armed security services, under the Interior Ministry. Formally this security force, which private citizens may rent from the government, are called “security police” and drive around in white and orange colored cars with a special insignia.
The “security police” are as public officers not allowed to carry weapons while providing security for foreign citizens. The source at the “security police” said that the same ten bodyguards will be allowed to continue working for Ivanishvili, but without guns.
But Eka Beselia, Ivanishvili’s lawyer, argues that the seizure of the weapons was a violation of procedure. According to her, Mirian Baindurashvili, a representative of the “security police” department, called Anzor Chubinidze, head of the businessman’s security, and to other servicemen and demanded them to come to the department and surrender their weapons.
Eka Beselia says that the disarmament should not have happened by telephone calls or other messages, but through visiting the place and following necessary procedures. According to her, the disarmament of security is unacceptable considering the fact that Bidzina Ivanishvili is an honorary consul of San Marino in Georgia and has diplomatic status as such.
According to Akaki Minashvili, chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee an honorary consul is not part of the diplomatic corps, and the government is not obliged to protect him.
No comments were made by the executive regarding this issue.
In fact, no comments have been forthcoming from the government on any of the cases, beyond confirming the mere facts.