Kezerashvili claims Israeli journalist’s smear campaign behind BBC investigation on his links to fraud scheme

  • In his statement, Kezerashvili said while journalists were “not immune” from “mistakes”, there had been a “deliberate distortion” of “many facts” in the investigative piece. Photo: Tabula, 18 Apr 2023 - 16:16, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia’s wanted former Defence Minister David Kezerashvili on Tuesday said the British Broadcasting Corporation’s investigation that alleged his links to an international fraud scheme was a product of a journalist of the Israeli newspaper The Times of Israel, whom he accused of a smear campaign for damaging his “business reputation”.

Kezerashvili’s comment followed the BBC’s investigation into a fraudulent “call centre” scheme allegedly involving the former official, made public in a report that last week detailed a global network of a scam operation targeting individuals with offers of investing their savings for profits.

In his statement, Kezerashvili said while journalists were “not immune” from “mistakes”, there had been a “deliberate distortion” of “many facts” in the investigative piece.

“The false accusations and assumptions expressed in the story can be discussed in detail endlessly, but I will stop here and allow myself to say that the allegations related to the so-called call centres have been part of a smear campaign against me by the Georgian authorities since 2012”, Kezerashvili said. 

As for the author of the investigative material, the journalist represents the Israeli media outlet - The Times of Israel [and not the BBC] - and she has been trying to damage my business reputation for years. Examples of this are her publications in the Israeli media. I do not know what the author's motivation could be”, the wanted former official said.

Kezerashvili also revealed he was giving up his controlling share of the Georgian-based Formula TV channel and transferring a half of the existing shares to the company itself.

The former official also added he would do “my best” to prove in court the unfairness of the allegations made in the BBC investigative report.

In BBC Eye, a documentary investigative series, the broadcaster said it had spent over a year looking into the global fraudulent trading network of hundreds of investment brands scamming targets. The investigation revealed for the first time the scale of the fraud, as well as the identities of individuals who appear to be behind it.

The network is known to police as the Milton Group, a name originally used by the scammers themselves but abandoned in 2020. The BBC identified 152 brands, including the Georgian-based Solo Capitals, that appear to be part of the network.

The broadcaster explained operators of the scheme contacted their targets and offered opportunities for making profit, or sometimes offering them help in recovering funds they had already lost in previous scams. A majority of their victims signed up after being shown ads on social media.

It also said Kezerashvili’s involvement in the operations had been shown by Panama Papers, the 11.5 million documents leaked in 2016 to show financial dealings of wealthy individuals and officials across the world.

Kezerashvili told the BBC via his lawyers that he strongly denied any involvement with the Milton Group, or that he gained financially from scams.

The former Minister is wanted in Georgia for embezzlement of state funds during his time in office between 2006-2008, 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.