BBC investigation links Kezerashvili to a global scam network
The BBC published an article titled “On the hunt for the businessmen behind a billion-dollar scam” detailing the results of a year-long journalistic investigation into a global fraudulent trading network that defrauded unwitting customers. The investigation produced a number of names that eventually led to a single figure – David Kezerashvili, the former defence minister of Georgia. The journalistic investigation spanned one year and identified a shadowy network of individuals behind it.
Known to the police as the Milton Group (the name used by scammers but abandoned in 2020), it comprised 152 brands, including Solo Capitals, defrauding customers of thousands and hundreds of thousands of Pounds.
Investigators mapped the links between companies in the Milton group using publicly available company documents. According to the article, five names kept popping up, listed as directors of Milton’s trading platforms or supporting technology companies – David Todua, Rati Tchelidze, Guram Gogeshvili, Joseph Mgeladze and Michael Benimini.
Investigators also plugged the five names into the Panama Papers (a massive 2016 leak detailing offshore companies) and found that four people – Tchelidze, Gogeshvili, Mgeladze and Benimini – were listed as directors or senior figures in a group of linked offshore companies or subsidiaries that predated the aforementioned Milton group. Many of these companies were linked in some way to David Kezerashvili.
The article reads that there are no publicly available documents linking Kezerashvili to the pre-Milton network, however, it notes that his name came up on multiple occasions, identifying him as either the founder of the parent companies in the network or as one of the initial shareholders. The investigation concludes that “behind the scenes, Kezerashvili appeared to be at the centre of that network”.
The journalistic investigation found no publicly available documentation linking Kezerashvili to the fraudulent companies, and “there was no evidence that he had a direct financial interest in the Milton brands”. However, the authors write that several former Milton employees who had direct dealings with Kezerashvili have confidentially revealed that they knew of his involvement with the Milton group.
There are a number of other indirect indications of the former defence minister’s links to the Milton brands identified during the investigation, such as a private email server used exclusively by Milton Group companies and those owned by Kezerashvili, office buildings in Kyiv owned by him and housing the fraud call centre, close social ties between the four senior Milton Group figures and Kezerashvili, as evidenced by social media profiles and photos, his promotion of fraud trading platforms on his social media accounts, etc.
Davit Kezerashvili responded to the accusations made in the journalistic investigation on his Facebook page, saying that he had “never” had any connection with the issue of so-called call centres described by BBC. “I declare with full responsibility that I have never participated in such schemes.”
Kezerashvili said he would not ignore the damage caused to him by the published material, especially when “politicized justice is being carried out by the Georgian authorities” against him and Formula TV, which he founded. He also noted that this attack by the ruling party has an organized nature.
“Despite the fact that I consider British Public Broadcasting as a media outlet of a high journalistic standard, this is the case when I have many questions on the issues related to me,” Kezerashvili said, adding that he would use all legal levers to confirm “both the inaccuracy of the facts and the false assumptions made as a result of their misinterpretation” and “it will not take long.”
“I have always expressed my readiness to cooperate with the investigative bodies of European countries on the issue of call centres, and I am still ready to do so, especially since my place of residence as a person in political exile in Great Britain, the reliability of whose judicial system is beyond any doubt,” the former defence minister stressed.
On April 18, Davit Kezerashvili announced that he was giving up the control package of the TV “Formula” and would transfer half of the stakes to the collective. According to him, after the end of the oligarchical rule, he will also transfer the remaining stakes to the team of TV company.
President Zurabishvili cancels visit to Strasbourg
President Zurabishvili cancelled her much-anticipated visit to Strasbourg where she was expected to address the European Parliament. According to the statement issued by the Administration of the President regarding the cancellation of the visit: “Due to the artificially prolonged approval process by the Georgian government, the President of Georgia has decided to postpone an important visit to the city of Strasbourg, as she believes that this should be a step towards depolarization and not the other way round”.
The statement further acknowledged the importance of the visit and of addressing the European Parliament in the context of the much-awaited decision on EU candidate status for Georgia and reads that “the appropriate time of the speech will be determined together with the President of the European Parliament”.
The Administration of the Government immediately refuted the above statement, stating that the allegation of artificially delaying the approval was “false” and that the Government’s official approval was given promptly, on 13 April, the next day after receiving the letter from the President’s Office.
Parliament of Georgia fails to reach a quorum to create Parliamentary Investigation Commission
During the 20 April plenary session, for the third day in a row, the ruling party prevented the vote on the creation of the parliamentary investigation commission to look into the allegations of corruption in the judiciary, by not registering for the session. As a result, there was no quorum for the vote to take place.
Only 52 MPs registered, whereas at least 76 MPs are needed for a quorum.
Prior to the registration procedure, the chairman of “Georgian Dream,” Irakli Kobakhidze said that all MPs are obliged to take care of “state sovereignty, the principle of judicial independence” and that the ruling party acts in accordance with these principles. “Of course, we will again respect the principle of judicial independence and we will not be registered today,” he said.
United National Movement MP Tina Bokuchava appealed to the Speaker of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, to call on the members of the majority to “give the Parliament the opportunity to exercise the right provided by the Constitution”.
The opposition came out with the initiative to create the commission last week in response to the recent sanctioning of four judges by the US State Department for their alleged involvement in “significant corruption.”
We are utterly grateful to our donors for the generous support we receive – but reader contributions will support us to make the EGI Digest more sustainable and will allow us to develop and improve. Our aim is to bring you reliable, fact-based and politically independent reporting. Support this critical public service by making a donation today. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our future. If you feel that our work is valuable and you are able and willing to donate, please reach us at digest(at)egi.ge