Dissemination of Bera Ivanishvili’s secret records: assessments of the parties and launch of an investigation by the prosecutor’s office
On March 6, 2021, TV Pirveli broadcasted secret audio recordings in which Bera Ivanishvili, the son of former Georgian Dream leader and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and the current head of the Special State Protection Service, Anzor Chubinidze are involved. According to the audio Bera ivanishvili wanted to intimidate, humiliate and punish young people who wrote offensive comments on Bera’s post. The same program broadcasted a recording of a conversation between Bera Ivanishvili and the current Prime Minister, Irakli Gharibashvili. In this recording Gharibashvili encourages Bera Ivanishvili’s actions and discusses the details of possible punishment of young people.
Representatives of the ruling party and the opposition commented on the release of the recordings. Mamuka Mdinaradze, chairman of the Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, said the recordings were made in 2010 before Bidzina Ivanishvili came to politics, from which one of the “red” TV stations “collected phrases”. The first official statement of the Georgian Dream on this topic states that the record is “gross fabrication”. Georgian Dream MP Irma Zavradashvili said: “I was horrified by the pressure on this family.” Another member of the parliamentary majority, Aluda Ghudushauri, said that if anyone abused his family, he would behave like Bera. The reaction of the opposition was harsh in its assessment. Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of European Georgia, said that “these people [Georgian Dream] are dangerous people for the future of Georgia.” He also answered Mamuka Mdinaradze’s explanation that the record is from 2010 – “If they did not have the power, then would they have acted like that?!”. Leader of “Lelo” Mamuka Khazaradze demanded the resignation of Irakli Gharibashvili and Anzor Chubinidze and ruled out participating in negotiations with Irakli Gharibashvili in any format.
A joint statement of non-governmental organizations was released about the audio which TV PIRVELI broadcasted on the program. Their position is that the contents of the leaked record contain several crime marks under the Criminal Code, in which presumably all named persons are involved. According to the statement, at this stage, it is critically necessary to answer the questions related to the authenticity of the spread record immediately. The Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria, has an identical position: “After establishing the authenticity of the records, it can be assessed whether the records contain information about alleged criminal acts.”
On March 9, 2021, the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia launched an investigation into the facts of “unauthorized recording” and “illegal use and dissemination of information” (Article 158 of the Criminal Procedure Code). According to the investigation agency, examinations will be appointed to “authenticate” the records. On March 10, Bera Ivanishvili made an appearance on Imedi TV. He said he would have acted the same way in similar situations today, in addition to stating that every other Georgian man would have acted like that. According to Bera Ivanishvili, the purpose of the recordings, which was made during the rule of the United National Movement, was to “provoke” the Ivanishvili family. He also accused the former government of “total, illegal” wiretaps.
The Tbilisi City Court ruled on March 9 to allow the prosecutor’s office to remove the “electronic information carrier” provided to the television by a confidential source, as well as the envelope/packaging in which the device was placed on March 6 in the case of the hidden recordings aired by TV Pirveli. Journalist Nodar Meladze explains that the prosecutor’s office is not interested in investigating the facts cited in the journalistic investigation and asks the TV company to give only the items that provided them with “material of high public interest.” He also said that these processes raise suspicions that the investigative agency is trying to get to the source “using direct and indirect method”.
The non-governmental sector responds critically to the court ruling. Transparency International Georgia said in a statement that the ruling was a “dangerous precedent”. It violated guarantees of freedom of expression and confidentiality under Georgian and international law, in addition to posing a serious threat to media activities in the country. The statement also mentioned that this undermined the law enforcement and judicial system. It raises doubts about its use. The US Embassy in Tbilisi also commented. The statement said that “a balanced, impartial use of the rule of law and a fundamental principle of media freedom – the right of journalists to protect their sources – should be a priority in the investigation” and that “The legal system must function in a fair and impartial manner and must not be misused to achieve political ends through selective prosecution.”
The release of the recordings coincided with the political crisis that began in Georgia after the 2020 parliamentary elections. Most of the opposition does not recognize the election results and refuses parliamentary seats.
Russian Foreign Intelligence Statement and Assessments
Statement issued by the Russian Foreign Intelligence on March 9 claimed that “Recently, there is growing dissatisfaction in Washington with the actions of the ruling Georgian Dream party, which refuses to fully implement the demands of the USA. In the same statement, Russian Foreign Intelligence said: “to restore order in Georgia, the Americans plan to work systematically to support the opposition and undermine the Georgian Dream’s position.”
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaniani stated that the statement of the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service is a provocative, classic example of a hybrid war aimed at creating public confusion and nihilism. According to Zalkanian, the purpose of Naryshkin’s statement is to present the US-Georgia relations as negatively as possible and to harm the mood of the population in this regard.
The statement was also evaluated by the representatives of the ruling team and the opposition. Mamuka Mdinaradze, chairman of the Georgian Dream faction, said that the positions of the UNM leaders and Russia’s foreign intelligence coincided. The opposition’s reaction to the Russian foreign intelligence statement was very sharp. According to Gia Baramidze, a member of the United National Movement, this statement reflects the reality that “there is an oligarch in Georgia who is directly implementing and carrying out Putin’s plan in Georgia.”
The Europe-Georgian Institute believes that this statement by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service is a continuation of the centuries-old policy of the Russian Federation towards Georgia, which serves to increase polarization and deepen the confrontation between the parties.
Special Representative of Charles Michel – Christian Danielsson visits Tbilisi
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in agreement with the EU High Representative, Joseph Borrell, has sent Christian Danielsson as his Representative to Georgia as part of an EU-supported mediation and political dialogue process. During the visit, Mr. Danielsson will meet the President of Georgia, the Prime Minister, the opposition and representatives of the civil sector. According to Christian Danielson, Georgia is in a political impasse and now is the most important time for political forces to find a way out of the impasse.