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Opposition leader vows to sue Tbilisi mayor for defamation

18 January 2024
Kakha Kaladze (left) and Mamuka Khazaradze (right). Illustration by OC Media.

The leader of the opposition Lelo party, Mamuka Khazaradze, has vowed to sue the Mayor of Tbilisi and general secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream party for defamation. 

Khazaradze announced his intent to sue Kakha Kaladze on Tuesday, hours after the Tbilisi mayor accused him of racketeering during the rule of the United National Movement under former president Mikheil Saakashvili.

Kaladze accused Khazaradze of being involved in ‘dirty deeds’ and of being Saakashvili’s ‘goon’ at Tbilisi’s municipal government meeting on Tuesday.

‘Perhaps Mr Khazaradze was not a member of the [United] National Movement, but he was at the forefront of committing those dirty deeds, he was a goon of Saakashvili’s. We remember everything […] how you ruined people’s lives, took away other people’s businesses’.

Kaladze did not elaborate any further on Khazaradze’s alleged involvement in racketeering or extortion.

Despite internationally acclaimed institutional reforms, Saakashvili and his UNM-led government were widely criticised at home for what Georgian Dream leaders have consistently referred to as ‘terrorising businesses’. The UNM remains the largest opposition party in Georgia.

Kaladze also described key members of Khazaradze’s Lelo party, including former Georgian Dream parliamentary speaker David Usupashvili, as being ‘the same team that was called the [United] National Movement’.

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The ruling party has often grouped Lelo together with the UNM since the party’s inception in 2019.

With nine months left before Georgia’s next parliamentary elections, Khazaradze’s Lelo is vying to position itself as a ‘third’ choice for undecided voters alienated by Georgian Dream and the UNM. However, Khazaradze has been the subject of mutual criticism by both parties, with each accusing the Lelo founder of being close to the other.

The most popular Georgian politician 

Kakha Kaladze, a former football star of AC Milan fame, has maintained a high public approval rating over the past few years, often dominating polls as the most popular Georgian politician since 2021.

Besides being criticised for his administration’s failure to meet infrastructural renovation deadlines, his use of crass language against journalists and political opponents, and his endorsement of his party’s growing anti-Western rhetoric, Kaladze has also often been targetted for his previous support of the UNM during their rule.

After being accused of racketeering by Kaladze, Khazaradze shared a video of the Tbilisi mayor praising Saakashvili and his government in 2007.

The following day, Kaladze claimed that the video Khazaradze shared was taken out of context, stating that he also criticised Saakashvili in the video for his administration’s ‘mistakes’, including the infamous murder of Sandro Girgvliani. 

[Read more: The 2007 crackdown — Saakashvili’s greatest mistake?]