The Tbilisi City Court sentenced founders of TBC Bank and opposition Lelo party Mamuka Khazaradze, Badri Japaridze and businessman Avtandil Tserteli guilty of fraud and sentenced them to seven years of prison, but let the three walk free noting statute of limitations had passed by the time of the ruling.
The Court also re-qualified the initial charges of money laundering to Article 180 (2a, 3b) of the Criminal Code, involving fraud committed by more than one person and in large quantities.
Justice Giorgi Arevadze cleared the pretrial measures of bail and prohibition on leaving the country imposed on the three persons and ruled to unfreeze their assets and bank accounts.
Khazaradze, Japaridze and Tsereteli were charged in 2019 with laundering the sum of USD 17 million in 2008, facing nine to twelve years in prison. The prosecution argued TBC Bank loaned the amount to Tsereteli’s companies in April and May of 2008, and Tsereteli funneled the money back to Khazaradze and Japaridze. Subsequently, TBC bank wrote off the loan in 2012, according to the investigation.
In response to today’s Court ruling, Badri Japaridze stated they deny having committed fraud and will appeal the verdict in the second instance court.
He lambasted the Prosecutor’s Office of “committing fraud all this time” during the investigation, arguing now it has become clear that there were no signs of money laundering in the case.
Interpreting the verdict, Khazaradze argued the ruling on fraud was based on the 2012 write-off of the loan. TBC Bank founders have claimed that multiple bad loans from 2008 were forgiven in 2012 as they coincided with the Russo-Georgian War.
But Khazaradze pointed out in his statement that the TBC Bank’s action had not been probed separately. “This is nonsense,” he highlighted, going on to slam the judiciary “that each and every one of us and the whole society has to dismantle.”
Khazaradze claimed the Georgian court system is under the influence of Georgian Dream founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. “With such a court, such justice system our country cannot progress,” he added.
Prosecutor in the case, Archil Tkeshelashvili on his part maintained that evidence provided by the prosecution was sufficient for the Court to find the suspects guilty, despite re-qualifying the charges to fraud.
The Prosecutor’s Office later in the day delivered a statement noting it will take the ruling to the Tbilisi Court of Appeals.
Transparency International (TI) Georgia, a key local watchdog stated that monitoring of case files and the trials, it was clear the case was “unambiguously politically motivated.” The watchdog argued the investigation could have served to punish opponents of the Georgian Dream government and halt the of Anaklia Deep Sea Port project, a joint venture of TBC Holding and a U.S. investor under a consortium.
“Today Georgian public again witnessed the enforcement of politicized justice,” TI Georgia stressed, adding that even though the Lelo party leaders Khazaradze and Japaridze as well as the father of TV pirveli founder, Avtandil Tsereteli were not sent to prison, the court’s ruling showed a “political motive” and damaged the reputation of the defendants.
This article was updated with statements delivered by the Prosecutor’s Office and Transparency International Georgia.
Read for background on the controversial TBC Bank case:
- Court Concludes Hearings in Controversial TBC Bank Money Laundering Case
- Ombudsperson: Khazaradze-Japaridze Case Materials ‘Do not Contain’ Money Laundering Elements
- Court: Khazaradze, Japaridze to Post 700K Bail, Stay in Country
- Key Points: TBC Bank Affair