Bera Ivanishvili has refused to refute the authenticity of recordings of conversations between himself and the Prime Minister in which they discuss sending men to threaten and harass people for leaving unkind comments on Facebook.
Bera, the son of billionaire Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, broke his silence and sat down with TV Imedi, a pro-government TV channel, three days after the publication of explosive tapes of conversations purportedly between Bera and Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili.
The tapes appear to show Gharibashvili, and the head of Georgia’s Special State Protection Service (SSPS), Anzor Chubinidze, agreeing to send police officers to intimidate people who criticised Bera on Facebook.
Bera remained unrepentant during the 12-minute interview, stating that if someone insulted his mother he would demand an answer from this person.
The journalists at Imedi refrained from asking probing questions to Bera, but did ask him directly if the recordings were authentic or not. He answered he ‘wouldn’t even start arguing’ about whether the tapes were authentic or not.
‘Today I have absolutely the same position and will directly say that if someone insults my mother if someone touches upon my family, which is the most sacred and valued thing to me, I will definitely demand an answer from this person even today. Show me a single Georgian man who has a different opinion on this. Show me one man, one Georgian man, with a different opinion on this’, he said.
In the interview, Bera said he was 15–16 when a campaign of insults against him and his supporters started online, and that he was ‘forced to notify guard services’ about it.
A Bera ringtone
'I will be honest, it was shocking for me, because there had never been such cursing, such insults in my family home’, he said, adding that the security services visited ‘these people’ in full compliance with the law.
In several of the tapes released by TV Pirveli, Bera Ivanishvili is heard calling Gharibashivli by a nickname — Tri-tri.
Later they have a conversation:
Bera Ivanishvili: ‘Put “tri” as your ringtone. When ministers will call you, imagine it starts playing… Put tri.’
Irakli Gharibashivli: ‘I will put [it as a ringtone], bro, I don’t care, they can call.’
Bera Ivanishvili: ‘Tri, man, it will be clear, you know, for everyone whose track it is, why shouldn't you have it? [as a ringtone]. Half of Georgia should have it [as a ringtone].’
After the recordings were aired, TV station Mtavari alleged that Bera was telling Gharibashvili to set his 2017 single, Three Words as his ringtone.
Journalists of Imedi TV asked Bera what ‘Tri’ meant.
‘In 2010-2011 me and Mr Irakli Gharibashvili were often in France because of my music issues. Irakli knows French well and we were jokingly calling each other some French names and I am not saying Tri-tri there, I am saying “Antoni”. This is what we used to call each other, some French names. I’ve no idea how they hear Tri-tri.’
[Read on OC Media: Slew of witnesses accuse Bera Ivanishvili of terrorising critics]
Since the tapes were released, Georgian Dream officials have dismissed them as being ‘fabricated’. While not disputing the identities of those recorded, they have instead claimed that they were edited in a misleading way.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gharibashvili, however, has not appeared publicly or spoken about the allegations against him since the broadcast. The only statement he has made since Saturday was to post on social media about a meeting he held with US Ambassador Kelly Degnan.
On 9 March, the Prosecutor’s Office announced they had opened an investigation for unauthorised recording and dissemination of private conversations. The announcement from the Prosecutor’s Office came after over 60 hours of silence following the publication of the tapes.
The Prosecutor’s Office did not say they were investigating Gharibashvili, Bera, or the chair of SSPS as witnesses, vowing only to examine the authenticity of the recordings.