Investigation launches following claims Rustavi 2 TV was ‘bugged’

Press conference was held at the office of Rustavi2 this morning., 06 May 2014 - 20:51, Tbilisi,Georgia

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia has launched an investigation following allegations the Rustavi 2 television headquarters has been bugged.

Authorities launched an investigation today under guidance of the Criminal Code, in particular reference to the issue that the recordings violated the secrecy of private conversations and communication, as stated in a press release issued by the Prosecutor's Office.

Earlier today the general director of Rustavi 2 Nika Gvaramia said he was handed two audio-video files which featured meetings between himself and the head of the newsroom Nino Shubladze at the top management’s office.

Gvaramia believed the audio and video files were recorded last summer. Gvaramia did not name the source of the information but said the information came from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

"Despite many promises that there would be radical changes in this direction first of all, an unprecedented thing happened in Georgia when the leading television station’s top management had been bugged,” he said.

Gvaramia, who is the former Deputy Chief Prosecutor and Ministry of Justice of Saakashvili’s government, spoke at a press conference about the issue but began his statement with an apology for making and releasing illegally obtained secret recordings in the past.

"All those recordings which I was aware of were obtained in a legal way and the release of those recordings was at the discretion of the government. I believe it was an incorrect decision and that practice infringed on the private lives of people,” Gvaramia said.

He stressed that practice had caused significant moral harm to the reputation of the people who featured in the recordings.

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani called on an immediate investigation into the Rustavi 2 case. She said Gvaramia was the "founder of illegal tapping culture” and endorsed his public apology for acting out in the past.

"Mr. Gvaramia was himself the founder of this kind of culture in Georgia, particularly the eavesdropping and control of others and it seems he did not realize then how much damage this caused and the impact it had on Georgia’s democracy and human rights for the past nine years. It is good that he apologized for it publicly," Tsulukiani said.

She stressed the main priority for the Georgian Government was to protect the freedom of expression and the human rights of all people.

"If this fact is true, the criminals must be severely punished,” she said.

Georgia’s Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili said his office would closely follow the case.

"Any covert eavesdropping is illegal and it is particularly sensitive when refers to a media organisation,” Nanuashvili said.

Executive director of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Georgia, Eka Gigauri, believed if the investigation found the Interior Ministry were implicated in this case, it would prove that Georgian citizens were still being spied on.

Thousands of secret files were discovered in weapons storage in western Georgia in June 2013. More than 181 hours of secret recordings of Georgian citizens filmed between 2007 and July 2012 were publicly destroyed on September 5, 2013. 

Some of the recordings were graphic and featured sexual relations filmed in hotel rooms and other locations. The recordings were part of a larger archive involving about 26,000 files. 

The files that were not destroyed included recordings of private conversations by celebrities, politicians and journalists. Videos showing prisoners being tortured were also included in this bunch and were believed to have been made by the Interior Ministry. 

Another occasion where secret recordings were destroyed en masse took place on February 1, 2014. Forty five disks and two hard drives with secret video recordings of the private lives of Georgian citizens were demolished. The rest of the materials were handed to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office to investigate.

Meanwhile, director of International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy Nino Lomjaria believed the limited facts released by Rustavi 2 did not necessarily prove that the materials had been leaked by the Interior Ministry.

"Only with those released footage we cannot assume that this is trustworthy evidence,” she said.

When Rustavi 2 announced its offices had been bugged, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office said officials would conduct a thorough investigation and take all necessary measures to establish the truth behind the alleged eavesdropping.