Archil Talakvadze, the Vice Speaker in the Georgian Parliament, on Tuesday responded to the announcement of the country’s wanted former Defence Minister David Kezerashvili of intentions to hand over half of his 51 percent share in the domestic Formula TV to the channel’s staff, by alleging the former official was “attempting to distance himself” from the media outlet after his “damaged reputation” following allegations of his participation in an international fraud scheme.
The comment came after Kezerashvili’s announcement, itself coming after a BBC report last week 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 in Europe while defrauding them of funds.
Free journalism is incompatible with the fact that Kezerashvili, with a high probability, is funding the media with funds earned through international fraud. Therefore, this move seems to be about shielding the channel [from responsibility], rather than a handover of its shares”, Talakvadze said, adding Kezerashvili was trying to “temporarily remove the burden of his own damaged reputation” from the outlet.
The former official, who last week rejected his links with the fraud scheme and announced a legal dispute against the BBC to “restore his image”, on Tuesday announced the handover while saying he was ready to fully concede the shares after “the end of the oligarchic rule” in Georgia.
Citing Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party and the former Prime Minister, in his reference, Kezerashvili claimed he had “no plans” to abandon efforts to support “pro-Western” groups in domestic politics until the “removal of Ivanishvili’s influence” and the country’s “final entry to the European space”.
Kezerashvili is wanted in Georgia for embezzlement of state funds during his time as the Defence Minister in the United National Movement Government 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.