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Levan Kipiani Says Omega Group Tapes Part of a ‘Joint Plan’ with Okuashvili

Levan Kipiani, the sports and youth affairs minister in 2012-2015, who was accused of facilitating a fraudulent scheme to pay off the ex-officials affiliated with the Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, says the recently-published audio tapes were “staged” for settling the financial problems of Zaza Okuashvili, owner of the Omega Group business conglomerate.

Speaking with reporters on October 3, following his court testimonial, Kipiani said he joined the Omega Group in 2015 and was in charge of government relations. “I was part of the company, I had a contract and my duty was to establish contacts with the authorities and the businesses, to save its financial resources and contribute to its development,” he noted.

The statement comes after a number of secretly-recorded audio tapes were aired by Rustavi 2, featuring what appears to be conversations of Zaza Okuashvili with several persons, including with Kipiani, involving allegations of corruption, side payments to officials, and sham funding scheme for the ruling Georgian Dream party.

The audio recordings were first leaked after employees and owners of Iberia TV accused the authorities of pressure and artificially creating financial problems to the Omega Group’s cigarette production company – Omega Group Tobacco (OGT). Omega Group is the owner and the main funding source of Iberia TV.

Kipiani stressed in his remarks that the audio tapes were part of a “joint plan” with Zaza Okuashvili. “At one of our meetings, Okuashvili offered me the following scenario; since his business was under pressure from foreign partners and he was also facing problems with budgetary debt [in Georgia], he offered me to record the kompromats together, which he would then present to [foreign partners],” the former minister noted.

“Okuashvili hoped my ministerial, family and personal background would convince the foreigners that he was under pressure from Georgian authorities and this would delay the process of debt payment that he had accrued with foreign partners,” he added.

The former official then said he accepted the deal in exchange for getting the amount that the Omega Group owed to him, and recorded the tapes together with Okuashvili. He added, however, that the OG owner had been recording their conversations for longer and outside their arrangement. “Even those that we did together are doctored.”

Kipiani commented on Okuashvili’s TBC-bank-related remarks as well, confirming that the money was withdrawn in his presence, but noting that he did not know where the sum ended up. He also denied Okuashvili’s claims that he was incarcerated in a basement and beaten by Otar Partskhaladze, former chief prosecutor in the Georgian Dream government.

Okuashvili’s response

Zaza Okuashvili commented on the matter from London, where the businessman is currently based. He said Kipiani’s remarks were “absurd,” and part of “a badly-staged performance.” “As if he had just come out of the basement,” he noted.

The businessman also denied having any financial problems with foreign partners. “The company started accruing debt from the time I started meetings with the business ombudsman (implying current Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia) and Bidzina Ivanishvili.”

He also said he does not plan to return to Georgia for giving a testimony to the investigation, citing possible threats to his life, and will give the testimony abroad or through Skype.

He also announced he would file a lawsuit against Bidzina Ivanishvili in a French court. “The country’s main robber is a French citizen, and perhaps the French will be able to clarify his role in money laundering, extortion and burglary,” Okuashvili told Rustavi 2 TV.

Political assessments

For ruling party politicians, Kipiani’s explanations confirmed that the Okuashvili affair was fabricated.

MP Mamuka Mdinaradze said the former official’s statement proved that “we are dealing with a staged performance for avoiding taxes; if Okuashvili wanted the investigation to reach real conclusions, he should have provided the evidence to the investigation right away, instead of publishing the tapes one by one.”

“Kipiani’s statement puts the version proposed by Rustavi 2 TV and the United National Movement upside down, and they have to give an answer to [Kipiani’s statement] now,” MP Eka Beselia added.

“Mr. Okuashvili should be interrogated; all these issues, this two-week long campaign and soap opera should be investigated thoroughly,” majority leader Archil Talakvadze stressed.

Opposition politicians find Kipiani’s account unconvincing.

Grigol Vashadze of the UNM-led coalition stressed Kipiani was “frightened and morally destroyed” by the authorities. “Kipiani, who was appointed as an informal supervisor in the company [in 2015], was now turned into to a scapegoat – they forced him to speak an absolute nonsense,” he said.

Davit Bakradze of the European Georgia slammed Kipiani’s statement as “an attempt to throw dust in people’s eyes.” “All this confirms that everything [we have heard in the audio tapes] was true and the whole government is involved in corruption,” Bakradze noted.

Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party commented on the matter as well, demanding former Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze’s immediate arrest and calling on Kipiani to tell the truth.

For the extended background, follow our Tag on Iberia TV.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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