Mamuka Khazaradze.

TBILISI, DFWatch–The confrontation between Georgia’s biggest private financial institution and the government grew worse on Thursday as the National Bank sanctioned two of the key persons in TBC Bank.

The National Bank of Georgia issued a statement on Thursday which orders to suspend the signature rights of Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, Chairman and Deputy Chairman of TBC Bank’s supervisory board, respectively. At the same time, a two month term has been given to the bank’s general meeting of shareholders to dismiss the the two administrators from the supervisory board.

The National Bank’s action comes a month after Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation of Khazaradze and Japaridze over an alleged multi-million money laundering scheme.

Mamuka Khazaradze, the founder of the bank, accuses the authorities of ‘an organized campaign’ against him, Badri Japaridze, and TBC bank, and vows to sue the NBG.

“We won’t give up our job, our freedom, our dignity. We will not tolerate injustice and will defend the legal right of TBC and its shareholders in local and international institutions,” Mamuka Khazaradze wrote on his Facebook on Thursday.

Neither Khazaradze nor Japaridze have indicated publicly whether they think they are victims of political persecution – so far. But the former has voiced suspicion about the timing of the National Bank’s ‘smear campaign’, which comes just as the TBC Holding is to start construction of Anaklia Deep Sea Port, a 2.5 billion-dollar project.

The project was bolstered by then Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who later resigned after a bitter row with Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire and leader of Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party.

The government selected the consortium headed by TBC Holding, out of dozen bidders, to carry out the Anaklia project. Giorgi Kvirikashvili was fiercely criticized for this choice by Ivanishvili, MP Davit Chichinadze told Pirveli TV in January, adding that this conflict led to Kvirikashvili’s resignation in June, 2018.

The opposition unanimously slammed the decision by the NBG, asserting it is acting as a puppet in the hands of Ivanishvili, which wants to destroy any institution, political or financial, which challenges his autocracy.

According to the country’s largest independent TV channel Rustavi 2, the authorities had unsuccessfully tried for several months to persuade Khazaradze and Japaridze to give up their shares in TBC Bank. The secret negotiations had been conducted by Giorgi Gakharia, the former business ombudsman and current minister of internal affairs.

Gakharia, who is a close ally of Ivanishvili’s, denied the allegations on Friday.

Several Georgian civil society watchdogs released a statement questioning the NBG sanctions, claiming that they might derail the financial stability of the country.

TBC Bank and its rival Bank of Georgia together hold over two thirds of the financial market in Georgia. The latter used to be the country’s largest bank but in 2017 TBC surpassed it by assets and currently is Georgia’s largest financial institution by capitalization.