PM slams ex-Pres. Saakashvili, “destructive opposition” for “dirty, anti-state campaign”, ex-Defence Minister for “unprecedented robbery”

  • PM Irakli Garibashvili on Tuesday said the “radical opposition has nothing left but to resort to personal insults”.  Photo: Government press office, 6 Jun 2023 - 14:35, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Tuesday slammed the country’s imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili and the “destructive part” of the domestic opposition for “dirty, anti-state campaign” over his conditions in custody, and also accused the former Defence Minister David Kezerashvili of “unprecedented robbery of European pensioners”, which he said had seen “one billion dollars” defrauded from its victims in a scheme allegedly involving the wanted former official. 

In his comments while inspecting infrastructure in Tbilisi for the forthcoming UEFA European Under-21 Championship, the head of the Government highlighted the April investigative report by the British Public Broadcaster that alleged Kezerashvili’s involvement in an international fraud scheme. 

The BBC report 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.

Garibashvili claimed the former official, who he said had “robbed the country’s armed forces”, had then developed a scheme to “rob European pensioners”, the former comment in reference to Kezerashvili’s conviction by domestic courts earlier this year for embezzlement of state funds while in office in the United National Movement Government between 2006-2008. 

He also said the Georgian law enforcement agencies had been cooperating with foreign partners over the past two years to uncover the latter scheme, adding Kezerashvili, who owns shares in the domestic Formula TV channel, had used the “stolen funds” to finance the “radical wing” of the domestic opposition and opposition-minded channels. 

Garibashvili said the domestic opposition had made “no response” to Kezerashvili’s alleged engagement in the fraud scheme, adding “we have witnessed only weak attempts [by them] to shift blame onto others”. 

In comments on Saakashvili, who was arrested in Tbilisi in October 2021 on his clandestine return to the country after eight years, the PM said the former President’s family had paid “one million dollars” on an “anti-state campaign” in an attempt to lobby for his “illegal release” with use of “fake allegations” on his “torture and ill-treatment” in custody. 

The claims follow a disclosure of the United States-based law firm Akerman in February, which showed it had received $917,177 from Saakashvili’s family to lobby the US Government to help free the former official. 

Garibashvili noted the “dirty campaign” had been “conducted against the country’s image” but ended with the “fair ruling” of the European Court of Human Rights in May, which rejected Saakashvili’s request to be transferred to Poland for treatment.

The PM also commented on the case of Nika Gvaramia, the imprisoned former official in the UNM Government and the founder of the Mtavari Arkhi channel, who was last year sentenced to three years and six months in prison for charges of abuse of power in 2015 and 2019, during his time at the helm of Rustavi 2 channel. 

The charges by the Prosecutor’s Office alleged Gvaramia had caused a loss of ₾6,763,509 ($2,239,572) to the channel in a deal struck with a media company in 2015, before also obtaining a car estimated at €76,700 in exchange for discounts on ads on the channel in 2019.

It is an ordinary criminal case, and the court has delivered its verdict on it”, Garibashvili said while refusing to provide further comments.

He also noted the “radical wing” of the domestic opposition, who have referred to Gvaramia and Saakashvili as political prisoners and said Kezerashvili is being politically persecuted, was expected to face a “strong defeat” in the 2024 Parliamentary elections. 

"Our weak and marginalised opposition - with all its satellites,  NGOs and degraded, immoral people - has nothing left but to resort to personal insults. These are ordinary, simple provocations, on which no serious person can have a serious comment. Anyone who tries to insult and provoke - including provoking the police - will be punished”, Garibashvili said.