TBILISI, DFWatch–The billionaire behind the government coalition in Georgia on Saturday made his first public comments about the political crisis.
Bidzina Ivanishvili had critical things to say about several of the people who have been at center stage these last days, especially ex-defense minister Irakli Alasania.
The crisis is the most serious setback since he mobilized the coalition in October 2011, became prime minister a year later after winning the election, then withdrawing from politics last year.
Over the last week, the foreign minister, defense minister and European integration minister have all left; the coalition has lost one party and is fighting to hold on to its majority in the parliament.
Appearing on live TV for almost one and a half hour in a one-on-one setting, he offered the news anchor on the Public Broadcaster’s Channel 1 lengthy answers about each aspect of the crisis.
Much attention was inevitably devoted to former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, whose dismissal by PM Irakli Garibashvili sparked the resignation of other ministers and prompted the Free Democrats Party to leave the coalition.
Ivanishvili criticized Alasania for letting a company founded during the previous government supply the Defense Ministry with food. This concerns the second criminal case brought against Defense Ministry officials in the last week in which the Prosecutor’s Office charged several employees with negligence which caused food poisoning among soldiers.
The ex-PM recalled a conversation with Alasania when he asked him to let the company which won the tender during the National Movement government leave the Defense Ministry, but he didn’t follow his request.
Speaking about the first case, for which five Defense Ministry officials were detained, Ivanishvili said that the decision made by Alasania had been a ‘mistake’. He spoke about details of the case about the agreement between the ministry and the company Silknet.
“Five million laris, which Alasania received from the reserve fund, two weeks after he transferred this to Silknet,” Ivanishvili said. “Tell me why he was in such a hurry? Why did he transfer this amount of money in such a rush, a year and half early?” he said, referring to the agreement which Silknet had made to finish building high speed Internet by the beginning of 2015. The agreement was signed in 2013.
Ivanishvili went into more detail about the case by saying that the ministry could use the services of another company, Deltacom, for free instead of transferring millions to Silknet, a company affiliated with leaders of the former ruling party, the National Movement.
Since the case about Silknet is classified as ‘top secret’, the journalist asked him how he was aware of so many details, to which he said that this is all he learned from material published by the Prosecutor’s Office and it only required ‘simple analysis’ to understand.
Speaking of Alasania, the former PM said he respects him, but he respects some of the members of his party more and the Free Democrats played an important role in victory of the coalition in the parliamentary election in October, 2012.
“Leaving the coalition is not a tragedy. The worst thing to me was the separation from our fellows, separation on the basis of unjustified steps,” he said.
Ivanishvili also said he thinks that becoming leader of the party in the current situation is also a mistake by Alasania.
“When there are serious questions about the leader, he shouldn’t have become head of the party but should have resigned. He shouldn’t harm his own party and fellow party members,” he said, adding that it would have been reasonable to wait until the investigation is ended and all questions have been answered.
When it comes to President Giorgi Margvelashvili, whom Ivanishvili first criticized in March for starting to use the presidential palace as an office, a palace built by ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, he criticized him for recently vetoing a draft amendment about regulating secret surveillance.
‘He vetoed the draft only because he wanted to use his veto,” the businessman said, adding that Margvelashvili wishes to show off that he can use his veto as the Constitution now doesn’t punish him for much.
Ivanishvili also criticized the president, whom he picked as a presidential candidate in 2013, for having a ‘love of visits abroad’ and once again remembered the president’s decision to move into the presidential palace with his administration ‘without asking anyone about it.’
Shortly before the detention of Defense Ministry officials, Margevlashvili said that the country must be governed by strong institutions instead of from behind the scenes, which Ivanishvili thinks is an insult of him personally and the whole government.
“Time passes and Irakli [Garibashvili] disturbs me less: Before he called once a week, once a month, now two months may pass and he won’t call. How can they have this feeling that I am governing from behind the scenes,” he asked, underlining that the president in his statements often sounds like the National Movement, however he doesn’t suspect that Margvelashvili is an ally of that party.
Speaking of his closest associate, Irakli Gharibashvili, who took over for him as premier, he said that he doesn’t like his ‘political maturity’.
He criticized the PM for his statement about Alasania being ‘unwise and ambitious’ and said that this statement was ‘absolutely unacceptable.’
“One shouldn’t talk about former friends in such a tone.”
Ivanishvili said the PM might lack some experience, as he is young and he made a mistake. At the same time, he said the PM is very ‘honest’ and ‘effective’, working 24 hours a day.
He said he has the same attitude to each politician and doesn’t favor anyone.
When asked by the journalist about the theory that he is controling the government from behind the scenes, he answered:
“What does it mean that I govern from the behind scenes? When ‘Natsebi’ (National Movement members) make such statement it is understandable and I don’t answer. They say what they want, but a politician who must have arguments and must be responsible – what does it mean that Ivanishvili governs from the behind scenes?”
“When the president says it and he can be responsible for his words… First of all, Irakli Garibashvili doesn’t deserve to be governed from behind the scenes. This is absolutely effective minister who works days and nights. Then it is impossible to govern government from behind the scenes.”
“I was in Ureki for six months and saw Garibashvili only once. How do you think it is possible to govern? Then they are insulting me. I do not respond to ‘Natsebi’, as they are abusive, but how do you imagine with my biography, my past or the recent past, I came and did what ‘Natsebi’ and the whole world thought was impossible? We did it and my efforts were enough.”
The journalist also asked him whether he thinks there is still secret surveillance in Georgia.
“The day before yesterday, Alasania called and we agreed on a time for our meeting. Fifteen minutes later, Rustavi 2 appeared. I’m asking you now, how did Rustavi 2 learn? Only me and Irakli knew the time of the meeting. I suspect that the National Movement is still conducting secret surveillance and it is not difficult.”
To further underpin his suspicion, Ivanishvili said that journalist Zhorzholiani knew several months ago about the idea to have him appear on a TV show and posted about it on his Facebook page.
Also on Friday, Margvelashvili said in an interview with Maestro that he meant the whole situation regarding the Defense Ministry in his statement about governing from behind the scenes. He said during that time he was on a visit to Austria watching all these events on television.
“This was a situation when one group, members of the government, very important members of the government, were contacting each other live on TV and on the background of this there was some information circulating that there are some political parties and forces behind it,” he said, explaining that it is different when you are in the country witnessing all of this happening, but something else to be abroad and watching it from a distance.
He said in this situation he saw what he was saw earlier as well, that often a situation is conditioned by personal factors, political factors, but less by stable institutions.
He said by his statement he didn’t meant Ivanishvili but when it was reported that Ivanishvili participated in the Georgian Dream assembly, theneverybody focused on Ivanishvili.
After the TV appearance by Ivanishvili, Margvelashvili said that he now sees that Ivanishvili again is getting involved in the life of Georgian Dream.
“But I don’t understand why he needs it,” he continued, adding that Ivanishvili is a person who has very much political power.
“If he had stayed in politics there would have been a more stable situation, because this power would have been manifested in the form of a strong leader and of course political processes would have been more effective.”