Georgia’s former Sports Minister Levan Kipiani was kidnapped, beaten, and threatened to have his ‘honour violated’, over pressure being applied to Omega Group in 2016, the company’s owner and founder Zaza Okuashvili has alleged in an interview with Rustavi 2. Omega Group owns popular TV station Iberia TV.
Rustavi 2, an opposition-leaning TV channel, accused former Georgian Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze of taking Kipiani to a basement where he was stripped and threatened with rape. Speaking from London, Okuashvili said he hired Kipiani to communicate with the government.
In the interview, which aired on Sunday, Okuashvili said pressure from the government began after he asked Georgian Dream party chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili to help solve his business problems. The government has said Omega Group owes around ₾50 million ($19 million) in unpaid taxes.
The businessman alleged Ivanishvili used his company’s vulnerable position and tried to extort money from him by ‘delegating’ the issue to the former Chief Prosecutor. He said he was later called to meet Partskhaladze, who was accompanied by armed men and ‘probably under the influence of drugs’. Okuashvili claimed Partskhaladze demanded he pay ₾4 million ($1.8 million) to Ivanishvili to make the problem go away.
He said he refused to pay anything at that time, and tried to find out if the demand had really come from Ivanishvili, requesting that Kipiani find out for him. According to Okuashvili, Kipiani contacted then–Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who in turn enquired with Ivanishvili.
Okuashvili said Partskhaladze was unhappy with Kipiani for contacting the Prime Minister, and this was the reason for threatening him. He said Kipani was unreachable for the entire night, and ‘wanted to kill himself’ after the ordeal.
In the interview, Okuashvili claimed the meeting with Ivanishvili eventually took place in April 2016, and that Kipiani and then–Business Ombudsman Giorgi Gakharia (currently the Interior Minister), were present.
According to Okuashvili, Ivanishvili held up four fingers during the meeting, later verbally confirming he wanted the businessman to give up ₾4 million ($1.8 million). Okuashvili said Ivanishvili asked him to finance the Alliance of Patriots party.
In an audio recording aired by Rustavi 2 earlier on Sunday evening, a man identified as Okuashvili makes several clear references to Kipiani’s kidnapping, and a person identified as Kipiani does not challenge that it had happened.
On 1 October, a spokesperson for Kipiani refuted authenticity of the audio recordings.
‘Pressure’ on TBC Bank
In the same TV interview, Okuashvili also claimed that he eventually gave up ₾4 million to ‘Ivanishvili and his people’. The businessman said he put the money on an account belonging to Olympus — an offshore company he registered the day before.
According to Okuashvili, TBC Bank was personally pressured by now–Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia to cash the money from Olympus’s account despite limits on withdrawals for new companies and companies registered abroad. He said the CEO of TBC Bank, Vakhtang Butskhrikidze was personally involved in making sure the withdrawal happened. TBC Bank denied Okuashvili’s story and threatened to sue him for slander.
On Monday, Rustavi 2 aired pictures allegedly showing Olympus Director Aleksandre Khachishvili accompanied by Levan Kipiani in the hall of TBC Bank’s main branch, and then also outside the building ‘handing over the money to armed men’.
According to receipts obtained by Netgazeti, the withdrawal happened outside the bank’s working hours.
In the interview, Okuashvili claimed handing over the money was a ‘trap’ for the racketeers — something he could later use to substantiate his claims.
Georgian Dream denies accusations
At a party meeting on Monday, Georgian Dream leaders dismissed Okuashvili’s allegations. Bidzina Ivanishvili and Giorgi Gakharia confirmed they met with Okuashvili, but said it was about helping a businessman who had unpaid tax problems.
Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze also rebuffed Okuashvili’s claims and said that ‘a tobacco company risking the operation of the media by not paying taxes’ was ‘unacceptable’. But Bakhtadze also added that there no one was ‘untouchable’ in Georgia and that the Prosecutor’s Office was investigating the allegations.
On Monday, the Prosecutor’s Office told Georgian news agency InterPressNews that all allegations circulating in the media would be investigated.
Also on Monday, 13 local non-governmental organisations put out a joint statement saying that the scandal ‘suggests the country's democracy is in deep crisis’, and suffers from ‘elite corruption’ and ‘informal, clan-based rule’.
Sunday’s airing of a conversation allegedly between Kipiani and Okuashvili was the third in a series of potentially incriminating recordings aired by Rustavi 2.
In the first recording, released on 10 September, a person identified as Kipiani is heard delivering demands from Bidzina Ivanishvili for Okuashvili to hand over $2 million, as well as to give up Iberia TV in exchange for writing off the company’s tax debts.
On 21 September, Rustavi 2 aired a second recording allegedly between the same two men in which a man identified as Kipiani tells Okuashvili to give him three cars for Dimitri Kumsishvili and Nodar Khaduri, both former Finance Ministers of Georgia.
[Read on OC Media: Secret audio recordings suggest racket in Georgian Government]