TBILISI, DFWatch – The main opposition leader in Georgia has been issued a fine of 126 million lari and an additional 22 million lari in a second case.
The city court in Tbilisi ruled in favor of the audit agency in the case against Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who last year launched an oppposition campaign with the aim of winning the election this October and removing President Saakashvili from power.
The case was filed by the Chamber of Control, an audit agency which last December was given new wideranging powers to monitor the finances of political parties.
The agency suspected that Ivanishvili used one of his companies, Global Consulting Group, for election purposes. In one instance, the businessman according to the ruling illegally distributed thousands of satellite receivers to the population for free.
TV media in Georgia are dominated by strongly pro-government channels, and a new channel associated with the opposition billionaire has been unable to get its signal distributed on cable companies, with satellite the last remaining option.
According to new, tough legislation, the CoC is entitled to issue a fine ten times more than the amount that was illegally transferred.
This means that based on an estimated worth of the satellite receivers of 12.6 million lari the court fined Mr Ivanishvili ten times that amount, or USD 77.2 million.
But lawyers working for Ivanishvili believe the court is not acting independently, but rather subject to political pressure. They are now planning to appeal the decision all the way, including going to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The lawyers explain that if the Chamber really believes that these money transfers were illegal, then they should be going after the people running these companies, not Mr Ivanishvili.
The lawyers have accused the judge of being biased and asked to replace him; but this request was not fulfilled. Other objections were also overruled.
The court also issued a fine of 22.4 lari because the opposition movement had used the cars of two companies (Burji and Eltia) belonging to Ivanishvili for election purposes. His lawyers say that they will also appeal this decision.
Journalists reported that the police were enforcing unusual rules at the entrance to the court building, refusing the media to bring mobile phones into the building.