Tbilisi City Court has sentenced Nika Gvaramia, the director of opposition-leaning TV channel Mtavari and one of the lawyers of Mikheil Saakashvili, to three years and six months in prison for abusing his position.
Gvaramia was on trial for crimes allegedly committed while the director of another TV company, Rustavi 2.
He was charged in 2020 with abuse of power and embezzling property at Rustavi 2, commercial bribery, and forging documents. He was found not guilty on the last three counts.
The prosecution’s case rested on a Porsche Macan S worth €76,700 ($79,900) being given to Rustavi 2 in early 2019 in exchange for advertisements on the channel. Prosecutors argued the car was procured for the use of Gvarami’s family.
‘Stay with Mtavari and achieve freedom with us! Everything will be fine’, Gvaramia wrote on his Facebook page shortly before being led away from the courtroom.
While not a member of the formerly ruling United National Movement (UNM) Party, Gvaramia held a number of senior positions during their rule and has remained one of the party’s most outspoken supporters. He also legally represented former president Mikheil Saakashvili in court.
Tbilisi City Court also convicted the former financial director of Rustavi 2, Kakhaber Damenia, under the same article, fining him ₾50,000 ($17,000).
On Sunday, the Georgian Public Defender reminded the Court of their earlier amicus curiae brief in which they found no grounds to pursue Gvaramia in terms of criminal or even corporate legal liability.
Transparency International Georgia issued a statement condemning the ruling as being politically motivated.
The group said Gvaramia’s prosecution was the continuation of a campaign of ‘political persecution’ against government critics, and ‘sends a clear message to other critical media outlets’.
‘Recent criminal cases launched against the founders or family members of critical media outlets, the failure to prosecute the organisers of the 5 July 2021 violence, the increasing number of cases of physical retaliation against journalists, and other ineffective investigations have shown that critical media activities have become dangerous’ their statement said.
The indictments followed a 2019 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights upholding a decision by Georgia’s Supreme Court to transfer ownership of Rustavi 2 to a previous owner. Following the controversial verdict, Gvaramia and his team went to build a brand new channel, Mtavari, from the scratch.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgia's Rustavi 2 TV transferred to previous owner after ECHR ruling]