The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office has indicted Nika Gvaramia, the former director of pro-opposition TV channel Rustavi 2, for ‘abuse of power’.
If convicted, Gvaramia faces up to five years in prison.
The indictment comes after Gvaramia was questioned as a witness on 2 August in front of a magistrate at Tbilisi City Court in a case launched by the state prosecution on 20 July. The case concerns allegations from Nino Nizharadze, who previously owned 9% of shares in Rustavi 2.
According to Nizharadze, Gvaramia cost Rustavi 2 ₾30 million–₾50 million ($10 million–$17 million) by signing a favourable advertising deal with ad agencies in 2015–2017. The agencies were owned, according to the prosecution, by ‘friends of Gvaramia’.
[Read more about Nizharadze’s claims: Rustavi 2 shareholder sues Gvaramia and other shareholders]
A spokesperson for the Prosecutor’s Office said that the possible damages to Rustavi 2 amounted to ₾6.8 million ($2.3 million).
The Prosecutor’s Office has summoned Gvaramia to appear by 19:00 on Friday.
Investigators searched InterMedia’s offices on 2 August while Gvaramia was being questioned in court.
After his testimony, Gvaramia told reporters that a line of questioning over the prices ‘made no sense’ as the prices are determined by the market. He claimed that the case was politically motivated.
Minutes after the announcement, Gvaramia took to Facebook in an obscenity-laden post calling the indictment ‘a red line’ and cursing Bidzina Ivanishvili, the head of ruling Georgian Dream party.
Rustavi 2’s ownership
Gvaramia, a former Deputy Prosecutor-General (2007–2008) and Education Minister (2008–2009), took over Rustavi 2 in 2012, right after the United National Movement (UNM) was ousted by the ruling Georgian Dream coalition in parliamentary elections.
Gvaramia branded Rustavi 2 as a ‘pro-opposition’ TV channel vowing to contribute to the downfall of Ivanishvili, who many critics regard as an ‘informal ruler’ of Georgia.
In July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of the Georgian government, greenlighting the transfer of Rustavi 2 to one of its former owners, Kibar Khalvashi.
Georgia’s Supreme Court ordered that the channel be handed back in 2017, but the ECHR put a temporary hold on their ruling until they considered the case.
Gvaramia, who was fired from Rustavi 2 following the ECHR ruling, announced he would found a new TV channel, claiming that Rustavi 2 was doomed to be under control of the government or ‘shut down by the end of the year’.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgia’s Rustavi 2 TV transferred to previous owner after ECHR ruling]
Paata Salia, who replaced Gvaramia on 18 July, has reiterated several times that the company’s financial situation was ‘grave’.
The founders of Rustavi 2 Davit Dvali and Jarji Akimidze have also claimed to be the legitimate owners of the company. On 1 August, the two rejected an offer from Khalvashi for 40% of the shares in the channel, saying that this was not justice and accusing Khalvashi of acting in collusion with Ivanishvili.
Prior to the switch of ownership, the ruling party regularly attacked Rustavi 2, claiming the channel was under the direct control of the UNM and accusing them of various ‘provocations’.
In early July, the Georgian government lambasted Rustavi 2 for an on-air vulgar rant by anchor Giorgi Gabunia against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgia urges international community to react to vulgar tirade against Putin on Rustavi 2]