TBILISI, DFWatch – The appeals court in Tbilisi has decreased reduced to half a fine issued to the opposition billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
(Article has been updated.)
Lawyers working for Ivanishvili say the businessman still will refuse to pay the fine and plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
The Chamber of Control took the financier to court accused of illegal usage of his companies for political goals. Specifically, one instance of distributing satellites to the population for free, and another instance of providing cars; in both cases the purpose was deemed as helping Ivanishvili’s own political movement Georgian Dream.
Tbilisi City Court fined the businessman USD 77 million.
Ivanishvili’s lawyers considered the decision illegal will appeal it to the Supreme Court. The appeals court partly agreed with Ivanishvili in today’s decision and reduced the fine to half the amount.
But Ivanishvili lawyers Shalva Tadumadze and Alexandre Baramidze say the fine is still a mistake and will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Baramidze tells DF Watch that during the trial, neither the court nor the government showed interested in documents they presented. Accordingly, it doesn’t matter for this government what belongs to Ivanishvili as per official documents.
The two cases which resulted in the fine concern, one, Ivanishvili’s usage of resources from his two companies Burji and Elita Burji for election purposes helping the Georgian Dream movement. It is about services of 239 cars. Tbilisi City Court fined Ivanishvili by 22 429 941 laris for this case.
In the second case, the Chamber of Control is accusing Ivanishvili of having used his company Global Contact Consulting for election purposes. Specifically, giving away thousands of satellite receivers for free, worth a total of 126 million lari.
In both cases lawyers working for Ivanishvili says no document can prove the businessman’s relation to any of these apparent violations. Furthermore, the claim by the Chamber was prepared without factual evidence, and even more significant, the Chamber didn’t have the right to draw its conclusions, because the Constitution doesn’t grant it such powers.
Ivanishvili’s lawyers repeated a request to suspend the review of the case and transfer it to the constitutional court; and to question as witnesses the employees of the CoC who participated in preparing the case.
They asked to question CoC employees Koiava, Merabishvili and Koridze, who prepared the audit agency’s case, and also Givi Lebanidze, financial expert at Global Contact Consulting, who prepared the business plan for installing satellite receivers.
Judge Natia Kutateladze granted this request, arguing that the court is not competent to decide which business plan is profitable. Therefore, at the next session, lawyers will present an assessment by the National Bureau of Expertise, about whether it was profitable for Global Contact Consulting to install satellite receivers for thousand of citizens for four lari.
The lawyers on Ivanishvili’s team further requested to replace the judges. Shalva Tadumadze, another lawyer in the businessman’s employ, says ordering an expert opinion shows the partiality of the court in favor of the Chamber of Control. He says if the court doesn’t know whether a project is profitable and asks for an expert opinion, the court cannot also understand the memorandum prepared by the Chamber, which forms the basis of the case.
Shalva Tadumadze was about to raise a request accusing the court of being partial, but the judges didn’t let him finish what he was saying and announced a five-minute break to make copies of the expert opinion. When the hearing continued after half an hour, Tadumadze requested to replace the judges.
The Chamber protested against this request, and the court didn’t satisfy it.
Ivanishvili’s lawyers were given the expert opinion, and the court announced another half hour break to familiarize itself with the conclusion.
The conclusion said that the business-plan of Global Contact Consulting wasn’t profitable.
Lawyers claim the expert opinion is prepared on the grounds of the Chamber’s interests, but there are mistakes, where data do not comply with data in the Chamber of Control memorandum: the amount spent on satellite receivers by Global Contact Consulting is just a third of what is written in the expert opinion, compared to the Chamber’s memorandum.
Despite initially allowing it, in the end the court rejected all three requests by Ivanishvili’s lawyers about questioning employees of the CoC, author of business-plan at global Contact Consulting and to rule inadmissible the Chamber’s conclusion, on the basis of which Ivanishvili was fined 126 000 000 laris.
Friday’s court hearing was attended by several non-governmental and international organizations, the U.S. lawyer Benjamin Chiu, and representative of the U.S. embassy. TV channel journalists didn’t appear on trial. Online edition journalists attended review of the case.
Tadumadze says Ivanishvili will be given seven days to pay the fine. He says there is nothing positive in the court’s decision to halve the fine. The businessman’s lawyers say that after 12 days, which means from June 23, the government will seize his property or shares, which he may have in any company. In case these assets are insifficient to cover the fine, the government is entitled to ask other countries to seize Ivanishvili’s property.
A law amendment gave the Chamber of Control power to issue fines ten times the amount that has been illegally used for election purposes. But after negotiations between democracy campaigners and lawmakers, the law amended again and the CoC can now only issue fines five times the illegally transferred amount.
The fine which was given Ivainshvili was ten times more than what the CoC suspected he used illegally, but it doesn’t change anything that the court decreased it to half.
The exact amount of Ivanishvili’s fine is now 74 325 065 lari, which is about USD 45.4 million. The fine corresponds to 1.1 percent of Georgia’s 2012 state income and is 0.7 percent of Ivanishvili’s fortune, which was valued to USD 6.4 billion by Forbes Magazine.