TBILISI, DFWatch – In Georgia a ‘leak war’ has broken out, fought by the uploading of compromising videos to Youtube and other sites, just days ahead of a decisive election.
The government and the opposition are bombarding each other with alleged secret video and audio recordings, some of which seem real, while others seem less authentic. As less then three days are left until the parliamentary election, leaked videos is the battlefield on which political forces are trying to win the support of voters.
It started last Tuesday with the airing of several videos showing physical abuse and humiliating treatment of prisoners. A massive public reaction led to two ministers resigning, as the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili acknowledged that the reforms of Georgia’s prisons had completely failed. The former prison guard who blew the whistle is wanted in Georgia over the leak, and recently Interpol issued a red alert for his arrest, apparently because he was involved in the violations he filmed. The former prison guard, Vladimer Bedukadze, went to Belgium several months ago and has applied for political asylum there, out of fear of retribution for blowing the whistle on the prison torture.
But as the election draws near, the Saakashvili regime has timely presented its own compromising footage. Tuesday, the Prosecutor’s Office said it received important footage from the French Gendarmerie which shows a meeting between a former Georgian minister, a current opposition representative and a mafia boss in November 2011.
If we are to believe the Georgian prosecutors, Goga Khaindrava, the former minister for conflict resolution after the rose revolution and until 2006, met with Revaz Lortkipanidze, a mafia boss and asked him for help in the parliamentary and presidential elections. In return, Khaidrava and his associate would restore the situation before the rose revolution, which means restoring that mafia rule which plagued the country in the 1990s.
Khaindrava, who has been a vocal opposition figure since leaving Saakashvili’s government, said on Maestro TV that he has known Lortkipanidze since he was 12, as they were neighbors and were living in the same house for 22 years.
“Unfortunately, our ways parted. I’m not separating from my friends, I cannot delete the past. He was and will remain my friend,” he said.
Khaindrava explained that the footage was filmed when he arrived at a conference in November about the Abkhazian war, during which he met with Lortkipanidze. He denies that there was any kinds of political dialogue between them.
Khaindrava plans to ask the French embassy to make public all documentation regarding the leakage of this video recording.
Khaindrava was questioned as a witness for about three hours regarding the video, and the questioning was continuing on Thursday.
He said the process was calm and that interrogators were truing to find out what his relations was with Rezo Lortkipanidze, but he added that the questions were not right regarding opposition parties.
“I’ve never been in any political party since the election in 2008, when as a sign of protest I rejected being an MP.”
France expressed dissatisfaction with Georgia’s move by publishing the material. The French foreign ministry wrote on its website that it was connected to the upcoming parliamentary election.”We are surprised that the Georgian authorities have made public information under the secret instruction concerning a pending case in France, which confirmed the possibility of collusion between Georgian opposition and criminal groups from Georgia working in France.” The statement also notes that the leak may influence the election.
Georgia’s interior ministry has launched a criminal investigation in the case.
In social networks people are calling the situation a war of compromats — incriminating evidence — between the government and the opposition, following the release of videos showing torture of prisoners.
Earlier, the interior ministry published a video which purports to show an attempt to bribe the police with 50 000 lari in favor of the opposition. But this video was not taken seriously by people as there are several misunderstandings in video, which causes suspicions that it was staged.
The interior ministry later released a recording of phone calls allegedly between former AC Milan player Kakhi Kaladze, who is now one of the Georgian Dream leadersm and Gubaz Sanikidze, also from Georgian Dream.
The interior ministry states that police arrested the alleged mafia member Davit Khizanishvili, who had tried to physically and psychologically influence voters in favor of the opposition party.
According to the ministry, one of recordings reveals that Kakhi Kaladze has close relations with 8 Georgian mafia members abroad, while one other recording apparently reveals that Sanikidze had a deal with Valeri Khaburdzania, former Security Minister, about releasing one mafioso from prison as part of a deal over money.
Kaladze responded on Maestro TV saying that the ministry’s statement is nonsense. He said it is true that he knows some mafia people, but those are Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili.
But the development didn’t stop there. Thursday more videos appeared online.
Several videos appeared on Youtube showing a meeting between President Mikheil Saakashvili, former prime minister Zurab Zhvania, who died in 2006 but is believed to have been killed, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who used to be head of pro-government Rustavi 2, and Badri Patarkatsishvili, a now dead billionaire who tried to mobilize his own opposition party and owned Imedi TV, which is now pro-government. Also present is current mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava and Vano Merabishvili, former interior minister and current prime minister.
The video, which is taken shortly after the rose revolution, shows them discussing the media business.
The parties first discuss Imedi TV. Vano Merabishvili tells Patarkatsishvili that it is uncomfortable to him to watch this channel, but the businessman says he cannot instruct journalists how to work, because he will be blamed of restricting freedom of speech. He also says he doesn’t have such a desire, because he cannot feel any support coming from the government.
Erosi Kitsmarishvili and Badri Patarkatsishvili discuss the problem of competition and how to regulate it.
Later, a video was uploaded to Youtube by a person who claims to be a former member of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s personal guard. He says in the video appeal that Ivanishvili instructed him to listen and secretly record conversations of coalition members.
Ivanishvili responded to the video saying that someone might have threatened his former guard.
“I’ve never instructed anyone to do anything. Those phone recordings are a new fabrication, which the government does. The government tries to cover up the latest events. Specifically the prison events,” the businessman-turned-politician said, referring to the scandalous footage which was aired on TV last week and show violent treatment of prisoners in Georgian prisons. The scandal not only resulted in the arrest of 16 prison employees, and two ministers resigning, but also may have damaged President Saakashvili’s chances in the election.
New videos and audio recordings appeared almost every hour on Thursday through social networks.