Georgian political parties have reacted to the statements of Zaza Okuashvili, owner of the Omega Group business conglomerate, who accuses the ruling party leadership, including ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, of extortion, racketeering and money laundering.
Reactions from the ruling party
The ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party held a gathering of party leadership on October 1, convened for marking the six anniversary of the Georgian Dream coalition’s electoral victory over ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement.
Following a joint statement after the meeting, the party leaders spoke with reporters about recent developments in the country, including leaked recordings and Okuashvili’s accusations.
Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze: My reaction is very simple. When I heard the statement, I could not but smile at the fact that Bidzina Ivanishvili extorts money from a businessman… I have reiterated for multiple times that not a single person enjoys impunity in Georgia; there is the rule of law, investigation, court and the Georgian society, who will make a clear assessment of all these [developments]… As for my opinion, when a person has some facts, I mean Mr. Okuashvili, he should compile it into a package and submit to investigative authorities through his defense lawyers. This is how it should happen in a civilized manner.
Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze: We constantly hear about absolutely unclear audio recordings published by Mr. Okuashvili… Zaza Okuashvili is the person, who managed to return his business and his television with the help of the Georgian Dream. The ruling party did it absolutely selflessly. Today, this person uses speculations, absolutely falsified recordings between two persons to cast shadow over our government… There is not a single fact of exerting political pressure on businesses; thus not a single evidence will be provided in this respect. This is a show staged by Okuashvili with the support of the United National Movement and let me remind you that UNM is exactly the force that seized the businesses and the television from Okuashvili. This is the way the United National Movement and Rustavi 2 TV act – through fake news and lies.
Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia: It is a one-person performance. One can only smile at it, but to put it seriously, all questions will be answered – be it in Tbilisi, London, or if Mr. Okuashvili wishes, in Bombay. Let me also emphasize that Mr. Okuashvili will pay every Lari and Tetri that he owes to the state budget. The meeting [with Ivanishvili] was held and I was a business ombudsman then; the main purpose of this meeting was to support local production and his broke company [Omega Group], which had accumulated such a huge budgetary debt.
Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze: Iberia TV’s fabricated case is yet another vivid example of the blame shifting game. It is actually a dirty campaign launched by the cigarette producers and upheld by the United National Movement. The purpose of this campaign is to avoid paying GEL 50 million, which belongs to the budget and the people, on the one hand, and damaging the government’s image, on the other. The criminal political force, for whom business racketeering, blackmail, intimidation and misappropriation of property was a usual thing, is now using feeble audio recordings to accuse the Georgian Dream of exerting pressure on business. We declare with full responsibility that there is not a single case of exerting political pressure on businesses and respectively, nobody will be able to publish any evidence of it.
Reactions from opposition parties
Grigol Vashadze, UNM-led coalition: This has confirmed yet again that the state has stepped out of legal and constitutional frameworks and that the vacuum created artificially by the Georgian Dream and Ivanishvili as a result of weakening of state institutions and the country’s constitution has been filled by Mafiosi and clans. What we saw yesterday is a road leading us to loss of the statehood, and the whole society should unite not to permit it… The institutions, which should be dealing with strengthening the state and observing the law, have turned into branches protecting the financial interests of mafia. Business is abused in Georgia, freedom of speech is suppressed, political opponents are persecuted and the country is governed by a Mafiosi clan, which established a political police to rig elections and prolong its rule in Georgia; the Georgian society and the united opposition will not tolerate it.
Davit Bakradze, European Georgia: What we heard yesterday goes beyond any limits and confirms that the Georgian Dream government has reinstated the Shevardnadze-type systemic corruption, when the country’s entire political leadership was involved in corruption. The GD has gone even further and their model of informal Mafiosi rule even outruns the clan-based system of Shevardnadze. This is alarming and this requires response from the state. We all heard the GD response, which has confirmed that the current government has completely distanced itself from the state interests, people’s interests and lost not only political, but also moral right to run the country further. We heard the government’s response, which did not promise to punish those guilty at least for the sake of respect, but instead we heard aggression, lies, boasting with achievements of their six-year-long rule.
Shalva Natelashvili, Labor Party: What the society heard yesterday means the end of Ivanishvili’s regime. We spoke about it years ago, and today the population witnessed an unprecedented fact how the country’s de facto leader, political leader extorts millions from a businessman, but what they did not see and what he [Ivanishvili] had committed will be unveiled by a very interesting investigation.
Davit Usupashvili, Development Movement: The crime chronicles that we have heard recently, and an attempt to overshadow these chronicles by [focusing on] unpaid taxes and past violence committed by the United National Movement, are nothing but a step towards the abyss… We have elections ahead, an opportunity to put the country on the right track. Therefore, I would like to address all those who have free will and dignity not to give up, not to become victims of a propaganda machine and not to turn Georgia into battlefield of Saakashvili and Ivanishvili… Exactly four weeks are left before elections; my team and I will do our utmost to lead the country in the right direction and help it avoid both Georgian Dream’s swamp and United National Movement’s rampage.
The statement came after a number of secretly-recorded audio tapes were aired by Rustavi 2, featuring what appears to be conversations of Zaza Okuashvili with several GDDG-affiliated businessmen and a former minister for sports and youth affairs, involving allegations of corruption, side payments to officials, and sham funding scheme for the ruling party.