Georgian former defence minister and media magnate Davit Kezerashvili has announced he is transferring half of his controlling share of TV Formula to the company’s ‘collective’, but will continue to finance the channel.
In a statement on Tuesday, Kezerashvili announced that he would transfer the other half of his 51% stake to the company ‘after the end of oligarchic rule’ in Georgia, a reference to the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Prior to his announcement, 49% of TV Formula belonged to the ‘Formula Creative’ company. Kezerashvili has not made clear whether his shares will be transferred to the company, individual staff members, or shareholders.
Kezerashvili served under the United National Movement-led government as head of Georgia’s financial police between 2004 and 2006 and then as minister of defence, a position he resigned from four months after the August 2008 War.
After Georgian Dream took power in 2012, several criminal cases were launched against Kezerashvili. In 2021, he was found guilty of embezzling €5 million ($5.2 million) in 2008 while serving as Georgia’s defence minister and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.
Kezerashvili announced the transfer of his shares not long after the publication of a BBC investigation alleging that he was at the centre of a ‘billion-dollar’ international fraud scheme.
However, the former defence minister wrote that he could not distance himself from ‘everything’ happening in Georgia, and that despite a difficult environment, ‘my exit from the processes [in Georgia] will not be considered’. Kezerashvili is reportedly based in the UK at present.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian former defence minister accused of running ‘billion-dollar scam’]
In his statement, Kezerashvili added that the move was intended to give Formula ‘the opportunity to create a completely new and unique media model along with my help’.
A few hours after the publication of Kezerashvili’s statement, TV Formula’s general director Zuka Gumbaridze, and two of the TV company’s co-founders, Misha Mshvildadze and Giorgi Liponava, announced that shares would be given to employees, who would go on to form an organisation which appeared to be dedicated to planning Formula’s work. Its chair would be a part of the board of the TV company.
Gumbaridze added that while employees would receive shares, the details had not yet been resolved.
‘25% will be given to Formula people, those whom you know well from the screens. They will also be people who stand behind the frame, who play a huge role so that Formula goes on the air’, said Gumbaridze.
‘This decision is unprecedented, so we don’t know the exact model yet, and we don’t know the exact list of people’, said Gumbaridze. ‘The main thing we will get as a channel is that from now on, none of the founders will be able to make a single decision regarding the processes going on in the channel’.
However, Gumbaridze noted that while Kezerashvili would no longer own a controlling share in the company, he would continue to finance the channel.
‘Today, none of the channels in Georgia are self-sufficient. Formula is no exception. Accordingly, it is Davit Kezerashvili’s decision that he will continue to provide financial assistance and fill the deficit that exists between income and expenses’, concluded Gumbaridze.
‘It is his right’
Georgia’s ruling party and opposition took distinctly different positions on the decision.
Levan Khabeishvili, the chair of Georgia’s largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), praised the decision when speaking to journalists on Tuesday.
‘It is important, including for Formula, that the pressure which may be on them will be removed. It is good that he took such a step’, said Khabeishvili.
Similarly, independent MP Khatia Dekanoidze said that Kezerashvili’s move would give TV Formula ‘moral superiority’, noting that the channel was being ‘pursued by this government’ along with the similarly opposition-aligned channels TV Pirveli and Mtavari.
In contrast, ruling party representatives accused Kezerashvili of attempting to ‘hide’ his connection to the media organisation, and the sources of its funding.
Vice-speaker of parliament Archil Talakvadze stated that ‘free journalism is incompatible with the fact that it is very probable that Davit Kezerashvili finances the activities of the media with money earned through international fraud’.
‘This [move] should be considered not as transferring or reshaping the television to someone but as hiding [the connection]’, added Talakvadze. ‘[Kezerashvili] is trying to at least temporarily remove the burden of his heavy reputation from the channel so that the organisation can continue to fulfil its tasks’.
The ruling party chair, Irakli Kobakhidze, further stated that viewers of the channel ‘should know that all this is fed with blood money’.
‘This channel operates from start to finish with looted money. This money is based on three main sources: business racketeering, looting of the army, [and] looting of European pensioners,’ he said on Tuesday.
On 12 April, the BBC published an investigation in which they accused Kezerashvili of being behind an international ‘billion-dollar’ scam network.
Kezerashvili denied the allegations and stated that he would do everything ‘to prove in court the injustice of the allegations made in the investigative film’.
The investigation into call centres in Georgia and Ukraine that defrauded people through fake investment schemes reportedly lasted more than a year and focused on a group of call centres which the investigation linked to Davit Kezerashvili.
While there have previously been criminal investigations into scam call centres in Georgia, which the BBC investigation claims have defrauded European and British citizens of ‘billions of dollars’, this is the first time the centres have been so firmly associated with Kezerashvili.