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Georgian security services accused of mass-surveillance of public figures

2 August 2021
The State Security Service of Georgia. Official photo.

The Georgian State Security Service (SSG) has been spying on journalists, opposition and ruling party politicians, activists, priests, businesspeople, and other public figures, according to documents reportedly leaked to pro-opposition TV station Mtavari Arkhi.

Those allegedly whose conversations were reportedly tapped included President Salome Zurabishvili, Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani, and Film Director Goga Khaindrava.

During the programme Mtavari Aktsentebi (main accents) on Sunday, the station’s head, Nika Gvaramia, published documents reportedly obtained from the SSG detailing illegally recorded telephone and face-to-face conversations, some of which included intimate recordings.

The channel did not broadcast the names of those targeted, however, Gvaramia said that the documents included their names and personal identification numbers. 

Several of those whose conversations were broadcast have since come forward to identify themselves, appearing to confirm the authenticity of the leak. These included RFE/RL journalist Giorgi Mgeladze and Formula journalist Nino Gelashvili.

The reports published by Gvaramia, which were dated from 2020, also detailed the sexual life and in some cases sexual orientation of their targets, as well as their partners and families.

According to Gvaramia, those responsible for the recordings were the head of the SSG, Grigol Liluashvili, Deputy Head Levan Akhobadze, and Koba Kobadze, the director of the SSG’s Operative-Technical Agency, which is responsible for carrying out covert surveillance.

The SSG has dismissed the allegations and denied any wrongdoing.

What are the allegations

The documents made public were divided into two major parts. The first, according to Gvaramia, primarily involved intercepted conversations about targets’ personal lives. It included conversations between high-ranking officials, both from the opposition and members of the ruling party, government officials, businesspeople, actors, journalists, and clergymen of different denominations.

‘A high-ranking official is having a love affair with a journalist who got pregnant from him, and Bidzina Ivanishvili found out about it and forced her to have an abortion’, Gvaramia reads from one report.

There was also a focus on ‘unconventional sexual relations’, the identities of targets’ partners, and the details of meetings or conversations.

‘Businessman I, was informed by D, an employee of a joint-stock company, that a representative of one opposition party, T, is a lesbian. According to D, some time ago, T offered a woman who was in an intimate relationship with the latter, to have non-traditional sexual relations’, Gvaramia reads.

According to Gvaramia, at the end of each incident or conversation recorded there was a note stating what actions should be taken next, with in most cases ‘continue operational activities’ noted.

The second part, according to Gvaramia, concerned more political matters.

One of the recordings was a conversation between director Goga Khaindrava and ex-Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani, who talked about Nika Gvaramia and TV Mtavari host Giorgi Gabunia.

Senior Georgian Dream officials have dismissed the reports. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, the chair of the Georgian Dream Party, the reports were a ‘fairy tale’.

‘We can not comment on the tales and fantasies of [Nika Gvaramia],’ Kobakhidze said.

In a statement on Monday evening, the state security service broke their silence, labelling the allegations ‘misinformation’ and an ‘anti-state action’.

‘As part of the information war, specific media outlets are using all means to use the current situation in the country to achieve their own political goals and to make society more polarised’, the statement said.

‘This misinformation serves to deliberately discredit the State Security Service, mislead the public, and incite distrust in state institutions.’

‘Unfortunately, certain members of civil society and political parties, willingly or unwillingly, become participants in this provocative and damaging disinformation campaign for the state.’

‘The State Security Service carries out its activities in full compliance with the Constitution and the norms of law.’

Giorgi Mshvenieradze, one of those whose private conversations was read out on Mtavari Arkhi and a member of the board of legal advocacy group the Georgian Democracy Initiative, challenged the SSG in a comment under their statement on Facebook.

‘OK. How did Nika Gvaramia know the content of my 2020 conversation?’, Mshvenieradze asked. ‘I’m interested in your response to this and maybe you can answer me here, others are interested too.’

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