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Three women and one man from the ruling Georgian Dream party have been blackmailed using illegally obtained footage depicting their private lives, independent MP Eka Beselia has claimed.
Beselia, a former influential member of the ruling party, was herself the victim of a series of sex tape leaks starting in late January. The leaks began shortly after her fallout with Georgian Dream over the lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justice nominees, ultimately leading to her quitting the party.
Beselia stated on 30 September that four ruling party members ‘in Parliament and in the executive branch of government’ were being blackmailed, telling IPN that ‘there could be more’.
She told journalists after visiting the Prosecutor's Office on 30 September that she would corroborate the identities of those blackmailed only if they came forward themselves. Otherwise, according to her, it would be ‘legally and morally wrong’ to disclose their identities to the public or to the authorities as ‘it concerns their private lives’.
‘There are people, as far as I know, who are being targeted with illegally obtained tapes and obviously they are experiencing certain problems. However, none of these people would be unable to defend their own rights’, she told IPN on Monday.
Beselia was summoned by prosecutors after claiming on 24 September that she knew other victims who were blackmailed.
‘No apology’ for slap in parliament
A new conflict between Beselia and members of Georgian Dream arose on 26 September, after Beselia physically assaulted Georgian Dream MP Vano Zardiashvili in parliament after Zardiashvili questioned her ‘morality’.
Incident at the parliament. Video: Mtavari Arkhi
During a hearing into Supreme Court justice candidate Miranda Eremadze, Zardiashvili muttered under his breath ‘what Beselia morals?’, comments widely interpreted as being a reference to the leaked sex tapes.
Beselia said she did not regret her behaviour nor would she apologise for it, also claiming that Zardiashvili’s reference to her morality was a reference to the sex tapes.
Zardiashvili denied the accusation and insisted he had questioned her morality due her supposed involvement in corruption schemes.
‘As a woman and a member of the fairer sex […] did you like Beselia's behaviour today?’, Zardiashvili asked TV Pirveli anchor Diana Trapaidze later that day.
‘I am not of the “fairer sex” ’, Trapaidze replied.
The original leaker
In a 29 January post on Facebook a day after footage of her was leaked online, Beselia called on more women to go in politics.
‘You can change reality’, she wrote, addressing Georgian women. ‘If we want women not to have to go through so much, come into politics and fight so that [politics] becomes more humane and kind than it was before’.
On 31 January and 26 March, similar leaks were reported.
Supporting Beselia on 1 February Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani challenged the perpetrators, saying that ‘none of us women will be intimidated, leak whatever you want’.
She condemned the leaks as a case of ‘terrorising women’.
The Georgian Women's Movement, a local women's rights group, condemned the leaks in January saying that it was ‘one of the cruelest’ methods used to oust women from politics.
They also organised a rally in front of the parliament the day after the latest incident between Beselia and Zardiashvili in parliament, calling Beselia a victim of moral blackmail and expressing solidarity with her.
Since January, the Interior Ministry has criminally prosecuted 17 individuals, 16 of whom were under 18, for disseminating or saving the leaked footage of Beselia.
In February, the Interior Ministry announced that the original uploader was Georgian citizen Dimitri Andreev, a claim that was met with scepticism among critics of the government, including Beselia. Andreev is currently serving a prison term in Armenia for murder.
On 23 July, the authorities announced they had indicted Andreev in absentia for uploading the footage of Beselia online. According to the Interior Ministry, the footage was illegally recorded in May 2012.
A common tactic
The leaking of intimate footage of prominent opposition figures has been common in Georgia.
In March 2016, two more sex tapes were reported to have been released online targeting politicians and journalists critical of Georgian Dream. At least one of those recordings threatened to ‘expect more’ unless they resigned from their posts. One women government critic resigned from politics afterwards.
Beselia’s interview with TV Pirveli on 26 September was conducted by anchor Inga Grigolia, who herself claimed to have been blackmailed using intimate footage of her prior to these releases.
Grigolia challenged her would-be blackmailers live on air, insisting she would not be intimidated or silenced. She said she had been blackmailed through an ‘intermediary’.
Rights groups have been critical of the government’s reaction to the leaks.
In October 2018, six months after his comeback to formal politics, Georgian Dream chair Bidzina Ivanishvili vexed critics by saying during an interview that he could not recall cases of blackmail using sex tapes.
On 22 July then-Infrastructure Minister and Vice Prime Minister Maia Tskitishvitheli said that it was ‘already tiring to hear Beselia talking about her private life and footages of private life’, claiming that the official investigation had answered all the questions.
‘The clan’ in the judiciary
The leaked footage of Beselia, who was one of the founding members of Georgian Dream, emerged online after her fall-out with those she called ‘newcomers’ to the party.
Beselia, a seasoned lawyer and opposition politician, was one of the first to team up with reclusive billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili after he first announced his plans to go into politics in October 2011.
After a months-long public spat with members of the party in parliament in late 2018, she resigned as Chair of the Legal Affairs Committee in January in protest against a list of ten Supreme Court justice nominees.
She claimed the list ‘pushed’ by her opponents in the party was a result of new Georgian Dream members allying with a ‘clan’ in the court system — a part of the ‘criminal regime’ of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM) party.
Beselia claimed her son and brother had been prosecuted by ‘Saakashvili’s courts’ as retribution for her political opinions, and would not now let the influential group in the judiciary that cooperated with the ‘old regime’ cement their power.
In her 26 September interview with TV Pirveli, she identified MP Vano Zardiashvili and her replacement as legal committee chair Davit Matikashvili as those colluding with the ‘clan’.
Beselia has frequently called Vano Zardiashvili a political opportunist who ‘converted’ from the UNM to Georgian Dream.
Zardiashvili, in response, has accused her of corruption and also called her a ‘rat’ accusing her of leaking inside information from Georgian Dream to the UNM before leaving the party in February.
After her assault on Zardiashvili, Beselia said she considered him among those involved in the sex tape leaks and claimed the leaks were attempts to silence her criticism of justice appointments.