NewsPresidentials 2018

Okuashvili Says Pressured to Retract Accusations Ahead of Polls

Businessman Zaza Okuashvili, one of the founders of the Omega Group, a Georgian business conglomerate, and owner of the Tbilisi-based Iberia TV, says the Georgian Dream leadership asked him to renounce his earlier accusations against the authorities in exchange for lifting a freeze on the company.

Okuashvili made the statement on November 21 in his interview with Rustavi 2 TV, a television channel leaning strongly towards the opposition. This came nearly two months after his initial allegations of October 3, where he accused the ruling party leadership, including Bidzina Ivanishvili, of extortion and money laundering.

Okuashvili’s initial accusations 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 people, including former sports minister, involving allegations of corruption, side payments to officials, and sham funding scheme for the ruling arty.

Okuashvili, who is currently in London, said he was contacted by the authorities several days before the first round of presidential elections. According to the businessman, the sides reached a deal on cutting the company’s GEL 55 million debt to GEL 11 million.

The businessman also noted that on October 26 Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank issued a GEL 8 million loan to the Omega Group, which made him believe that the state “finally rejected feudalism, racketeering and criminality and was put on a right track.”

He noted, however, that it appeared that the authorities wanted him to go public in exchange for these preferences, and deny his earlier allegations against the ruling party leadership.

The businessman claims the authorities wanted to air the statement in an interview  with pro-governmental Imedi TV on October 27, a day before the presidential polls. Okuashvili says he was given a script that he was supposed to follow during the interview.

According to the script, read out by the Rustavi 2 anchor, Okuashvili should have said that allegations against Bidzina Ivanishvili were made-up, and that he no longer wished to participate “in a coup scenario,” and “other fabrications” masterminded by ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and director of Rustavi 2 TV, Nika Gvaramia.

Okuashvili said the debt write-off decision would have come to force only after the interview. The businessman added he rejected the proposal because “not a single criminal, feudal or leader of the country or a political party should have an ambition to engage in horse trading with budgetary funds.”

Okuashvili’s cigarette production company – Omega Group Tobacco (OGT) suspended operation in July 2018 after the Revenue Service imposed a freeze on its property and assets, citing budgetary debt accrued by the company. OGT resumed operation on October 27, on the eve of elections. The Revenue Service said the company paid GEL 1 million debt on October 26.

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


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