Ruling party MP accuses UNM opposition of “silence” on BBC investigation linking ex-Defence Minister to fraud

  • Mikheil Sarjveladze, the Chair of the Georgian Parliament's Human Rights Committee from the ruling Georgian Dream party, on Wednesday said the UNM was being funded by Kezerashvili. Photo: Parliament press office, 12 Apr 2023 - 19:29, Tbilisi,Georgia

Mikheil Sarjveladze, the Chair of the Georgian Parliament's Human Rights Committee from the ruling Georgian Dream party, on Wednesday accused the United National Movement opposition party of being “silent” about alleged links of the wanted former Defence Minister David Kazerashvili with a fraud scheme uncovered by the BBC on Tuesday. 

The lawmaker claimed the reason behind the “silence” was the party’s receiving funds from Kezerashvili. 

In comments on the investigation by the British public broadcaster - which said Kezerashvili had been shown to be involved in a fraudulent scheme that offered European citizens investment opportunities while defrauding them - Sarjveladze claimed UNM, which the wanted former official represented during his time in office between 2006-2008, had “never supported freedom, democracy and the rule of law in this country”.

The party’s single desire is to retake office through destructive, bloody revolutions, and is masking [the goal] by [claims of] supporting democracy and human rights”, the MP said. 

In his social media post on Wednesday, Kezerashvili, who owns a share in the opposition-minded Formula TV channel in Georgia and has acknowledged funding “pro-Western groups” in the country, rejected the allegations and claimed he would take actions to prove the “inaccuracy” of the information reported by the BBC. 

He said “revealing the truth will not take long” and expressed his readiness to cooperate with European agencies over the case.

In its investigation, the British broadcaster said the Panama Papers, the 11.5 million documents leaked in 2016 to show financial dealings of wealthy individuals and officials across the world, had shown Kezerashvili to be at the centre of the scheme, in which fake call centre operators pretending to represent legitimate agencies offered investment opportunities to their targets while defrauding them of funds.

The uncovering of the scheme follows the BBC’s accompanying of Georgian and German law enforcement in their raids on offices of the fraudulent operation in Tbilisi in November, which came after Georgian police made arrests in October and Finance Minister Lasha Khutsishvili said in April 46 call centres operations were under investigation across the country.

Kezerashvili is wanted in Georgia for embezzlement of state funds during his time in office, with the Tbilisi Court of Appeals last month upholding the City Court verdict on the case and ordering him to pay €5,060,000 in compensation to the Ministry of Defence.