Rustavi-2 Loses Ownership Dispute in Appeals Court, Vows to Fight On

TBILISI – Tbilisi’s Appeals Court on Friday upheld an earlier City Court ruling over a controversial ownership case regarding Rustavi-2, the country’s largest independent media organization, and the transfer 100 per cent of its ownership to former owner Kibar Khalvashi more than a decade ago.

Following the ruling, Judge Natalia Nazgaidze, who chaired the tribunal, emphasized that an appeal can be filed with the Supreme Court within 21 days.

Rustavi-2’s current owners, Levan and Gia Karamanashvili, said they plan to file an appeal after their lawyer called today’s decision a ‘punishing measure’ against Rustavi 2 and freedom of speech in Georgia.

Paata Salia, a lawyer representing Khalvashi, told journalists that the court had made a correct and fair decision.

“The dispute is not over. The fight will continue, and I hope that Kibar Khalvashi will win,” Salia said.

Disputes over Rustavi-2 ownership escalated last year when Khalvashi, who owned the company in 2004-2006, attempted to reclaim his shares after he said his assets in the company had been forcibly seized by the government of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Khalvashi demanded USD 500,000 in compensation from the current shareholders and demanded that their ownership is annulled.

As part of Khalvashi’s lawsuit, Tbilisi City Court Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze ordered a freeze of all of Rustavi-2’s assets and stripped the executive powers of its general director Nika Gvaramia and financial director Kakha Damenia.

On November 2, 2015, the same judge ruled in favor of Khalvashi. Urtmelidze, however, partly overturned his decision and reinstated Rustavi-2’s top management, including its director general and financial director.

Supporters of Rustavi 2 and the largest opposition parties say that the court case is an attempt by the authorities and ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the eccentric billionaire oligarch who is widely considered to wield significant influence over the current government, to silence Rustavi-2 as it is critical coverage of the government’s policies.

Ivanishvili rejects the claim, saying he has no influence over the courts.

During a June 7 his press conference with the national media, Ivanishvili emphasized that shifting ownership of Rustavi-2 before the October 8 parliamentary election would be an ‘unpopular and damaging’ decision for the country.

Rustavi 2 is one of the leading TV channels in Georgia. The company does not hide its ideological affiliation with Georgia’s main party, the United National Movement.

Gvaramia, who held a number of leading positions in Saakashvili’s government, denies any direct involvement by the UNM into the activities of Rustavi 2. He claims that Rustavi 2’s goal is to contribute to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and freedom of speech in the country.

By Tamar Svanidze
Edited by Nicholas Waller

Photo: Tea Adeishvili’s Facebook page.

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