Nika Gvaramia, director general of Rustavi 2 TV, says the authorities have launched “a new phase of attack” against the opposition-leaning broadcaster with the aim of seizing the television channel and changing its editorial policy.
Gvaramia convened a special briefing about the matter on May 6, announcing that Nino Nizharadze, owner of 9% of shares, has filed a lawsuit requesting GEL 28 million (USD 10.3 million) compensation for damage incurred to the company by the controlling shareholders and the director general.
Gvaramia asserts that this is not a legal but a political dispute, and claims it is the government that stands behind Nizharadze. “A new phase of attack has been launched against Rustavi 2; this phase will be final and decisive not only for Rustavi 2, but also for freedom of speech in the country,” he noted.
“The only purpose of this absurd lawsuit is to change Rustavi 2’s editorial policy, to stop the biggest opposition channel, to appoint interim management, push the company to bankruptcy and pave way for Bidzina Ivanishvili to purchase it,” the director general added.
Gvaramia stressed the lawsuit is “absurd and groundless,” but said the company is nevertheless ready to settle the dispute through arbitration.
“We do not trust the Georgian judiciary, we have an experience [of dealing with it] and we know where this will lead us to; so if this is a real business dispute, we would like to offer you to file lawsuit in any business arbitration court, be it the one we may form in Georgia or abroad,” he noted.
Giorgi Kavlashvili, Nizharadze’s lawyer, clarified the plaintiff’s request on May 7.
Kavlashvili said the TV Company incurred financial losses under Gvaramia’s management, including with his decision to increase time slots for free political advertising ahead of the 2018 Presidential elections. He also said the company has not been paying taxes from 2016, and has therefore accumulated sizable penalties.
“It is also hard to understand why an intermediary company was given exclusive rights for selling TV advertisements; the company is charging a very solid rate, but does not provide any [actual] service for Rustavi 2,” he added.
According to Kavlashvili, the plaintiff is also claiming GEL 1.6 million in personal damage, citing refusal by the controlling shareholders to allow her to sell shares to third persons, as well as their failure to buy the shares themselves. The lawyer said Nizharadze plans to return the remaining 26 million to Rustavi 2.
Asked whether Nizharadze seeks appointment of interim management, Kavlashvili said: “It is hard to imagine how this can materialize in legal terms; we have no desire for it and we have not requested it in our lawsuit.”
Rustavi 2 TV has changed hands for multiple times since the 2003 Rose Revolution and changes in its ownership structure were often related to political developments in the country.
Current owners, brothers Karamanishvili, have been entangled in a court battle with Kibar Khalvashi, who is trying to regain control over the television channel, which he co-owned in 2005-2006.
Khalvashi’s claim, submitted in August 2015, was upheld by the Supreme Court on March 2, 2017, but the decision was suspended by the European Court of Human Rights. Final ECHR decision is pending.
Davit Dvali and Jarji Akimidze, who also claim that they were forced to sell their shares under Mikheil Saakashvili, appealed to the prosecution in 2012 seeking to reclaim ownership of the channel, but the investigation yielded no results. In 2015, the two voiced their support to Khalvashi’s lawsuit.