Georian Dream Party MP Vano Zardiashvili resigned on Monday after being condemned for questioning the ‘morals’ of fellow MP Eka Beselia. The remark was widely seen as a reference to intimate footage leaked online of Beselia’s private life.
Beselia, who responded to Zardiashvili’s remark by slapping him in the face, has repeatedly accused him of lobbying for a ‘clan’ of influential judges.
Zardiashvili made the comment in parliament on 26 September, saying ‘what Beselia morals?’. He subsequently came under intense criticism by both fellow politicians and women’s rights groups.
Beselia, a former influential member of the ruling party, was targetted by a series of sex-tape leaks starting in late January 2019. The leaks began shortly after she fell out with Georgian Dream over the lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justice nominees, ultimately leading to her quitting the party.
Zardiashvili denied that he was referring to the leaked footage, insisting he had not intended to be sexist and that his comments were misunderstood.
He announced his resignation in a Facebook post on 7 October, saying he was stepping down to ‘protect his family’.
‘Even though the truth is on my side in this particular case, I don’t want to be a source of provocation for people or political groups who are trying to further their agenda and harm political processes by attacking me’, his post read.
Zardiashvili told journalists that it was his decision to resign and that he had been asked by colleagues to stay on. Beselia, however, said she was sure the decision was made by Georgian Dream Chair Bidzina Ivanishvili.
On Monday she said that Ivanishvili had told her himself that Georgian Dream was considering Zardiashvili’s removal.
‘Ivanishvili told me himself about this when I demanded his removal from the [Legal Affairs] Committee. He was being protected by ‘the clan’ […] However, the Georgian Dream and the Parliament had suffered so much because of him, he blew up so many times on this bomb that he became self-destructive’, Beselia said.
‘There could be more’
After the incident between Zardiashvili and Beselia in parliament, Beselia said that three women and one man from the ruling Georgian Dream party, ‘in Parliament and in the executive branch of government’, were being blackmailed with illegally obtained footage of their private lives. She told IPN that ‘there could be more’.
After visiting the Prosecutor's Office on 30 September, she told journalists that she would corroborate the identities of those being 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.
Beselia was summoned by prosecutors after claiming on 24 September that she knew other victims who were blackmailed.
A common tactic
The leaking of intimate footage of prominent opposition figures has become common in Georgia.
In March 2016, two 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.
Popular TV anchor Inga Grigolia, who claimed to have been blackmailed using intimate footage of her prior to these releases, 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, 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 that she would not now let the influential group in the judiciary that cooperated with the ‘old regime’ to cement their power.
In an interview on 26 September 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.