Opposition parties including the United National Movement and civil society groups protested in front of Tbilisi City Hall, against a city hall decision to give 1 million GEL to the brother of one of the judges in the Appellate Court who was ruling over the Rustavi 2 TV ownership case. The money is officially in compensation for damage to property caused by a June 2015 flood which affected the Vere ravine area in Tbilisi. Opposition leaders are saying there is embezzlement and corruption in city hall, and that the large sum of compensation money is to award the judge for siding with the government’s wishes in the Rustavi 2 case. The opposition also pointed out that many other families are still waiting for compensation for the 2015 flood damages.
The protesters demanded a meeting with Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania, and tried to enter the city hall building, but were blocked by security. There was verbal and physical confrontation between protesters and security staff. 13 protesters have been arrested. Tbilisi City Hall issued an official statement saying that city hall already answered all questions regarding the alleged embezzlement, and that by holding the demonstration, “the United National Movement and its satellite NGOs are trying to create speculation to mislead society.”
Rustavi 2 reports that the brother of Judge Nata Nazgaidze received 1 million GEL in compensations from the state budget in relation to the flood damages. The brother, Zviad Nazgaidze, owned land in the Vere ravine area since 2013. Rustavi 2 says that Tbilisi City Hall rebilled Nazgaidze 5,000 square meters of territory in the Saburtalo area in central Tbilisi, however. The land in Saburtalo is worth 515,000 GEL. Tbilisi City Hall also gave 129,000 GEL to Nazghaidze to pay the credit and 43,000 USD to cover other bank-related responsibilities. Tbilisi City Hall will also transfer an additional 220,000 GEL to Nazghaidze to compensate for the damages.
Tbilisi mayor Narmania said he did not have information yet as to why Tbilisi City Hall is giving that amount of money to one individual for flood damages. “The Property Management Agency will find out and give us more information,” Narmania commented on February 8.
Judge Nazghaidze denied the embezzlement accusations surrounding the high compensation given to her brother. Judge Nazgaidze is the chairman of one of the boards of the Appellate Court of Georgia. She is one of the judges who decided to grant 100% of Rustavi 2’s shares to the broadcaster’s former owner, Kibar Khalvashi.
An MP of the Movement for Liberty - European Georgia party, Irakli Abesadze, has previously expressed intention to approach the Prosecutor’s Office regarding alleged corruptive schemes involving judge Nazghaidze and her brother. Abesadze believes it is suspicious that City Hall went through fastened procedures to compensate Nazghaidze for land which cannot be developed, since after the June 2015 flood the land is classified under a ‘disaster-zone’ and construction is restricted.
On November 21, the Supreme Court of Georgia began hearings concerning the ownership of Rustavi 2 television channel. Rustavi 2 is appealing the decisions made by Tbilisi City Court and the Appellate Court on granting 100% of the TV company’s shares to Kibar Khalvashi and his company Panorama. Rustavi 2 and several opposition parties see the ownership dispute as a political move to take over the channel control the station’s editorial policy, as the channel is known to be critical of the Georgian Dream government. Phaty Khalvashi, Kibar Khalvashi’s sister, is a member of Georgian Dream party and an MP for the Kobuleti District.
Rustavi 2 is the biggest TV network in Georgia and has the country’s largest audience. International and local organizations have called upon the Georgian government to refrain from taking over the independent channel.