Mamuka Khazaradze, chairman of the supervisory board of TBC Bank, was questioned by the chief prosecutor’s office. (1tv.ge)

TBILISI, DFWatch–Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office (POG) has launched a criminal investigation of the country’s second largest bank for alleged money laundering. The opposition calls the case an attack on unwanted business institutions.

On Wednesday, POG summoned and questioned Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, the chairman and deputy chairman of TBC Bank’s supervisory board. The bank is under investigation for alleged “legalization of illegal income […] an offense punishable under Article 194§3(c) of the Criminal Code”, POG press release reads.

The investigation deals with alleged laundering of 17 million lari back in 2008, a kind of violation which may be punished with up to seven years prison under Georgian legislation.

“A number of investigative and procedural activities have been carried out in the course of the investigation. Individuals involved in the matter, including Mamuka Khazaradze, have been interviewed. At this stage of the investigation, it could be necessary to obtain and study additional documentation and information in order to thoroughly investigate the alleged criminal acts,” the Prosecutor’s Office states.

TBC Bank responded by stating that it is the target of a a smear campaign, asserting that the statute of limitation period has expired for this case.

But a spokesperson for POG dismissed the bank’s argument, saying that the case belongs to a particularly severe category of crime, accordingly, the limitation period may not be considered as expired.

The case has caused a wave of criticism from the opposition, which claims it is part of wider pattern of the repressive measures against businesses that the ruling party deems undesirable.

“For several months, the society knows that Ivanishvili has personally attacked [Mamuka Khazaradze] and this [investigation] is its mere continuation,” Gigi Ugulava, Tbilisi former Mayor and leader of European Georgia said on TV Pirveli.

After the second round of the presidential elections, Bidzina Ivanishvili has directed his efforts to break down opposition, usurp judicial system and crack on unwanted businesses, he added.

Former head of the National Bank of Georgia and member of parliament for UNM Roman Gotsiridze went even further, likening Ivanishvili with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, saying that his efforts have been directed at rendering him the sole ruler of the country. To this end, he said, the government has launched a smear campaign to discredit major financial institutions in order to elicit public backing prior to cracking down on commercial banks.

“It looks like a scheme that Putin has done [in Russia]. It doesn’t matter whether someone  likes Mamuka Khazaradze or is allergic to banks. The issue is whether there will be democracy or dictatorship in the country,” Roman Gotsiridze said.