Tapes Suggest Business Dealings Between Ivanishvili, Sanctioned Russian Tycoon
An anonymous Youtube channel Cyber Kmara published two recordings on April 25 purporting to show a phone call between sanctioned Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov and Georgian billionaire and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili about possible business dealings amid the war in Ukraine.
In the first recording, the Russian tycoon, former chair and majority stakeholder of Sistema JSFC, purportedly informed Ivanishvili that his deputy, Ali Uzdenov, and a man named David — supposedly ethnic Georgian businessman David Khidasheli or former Sistema board member David Iakobashvili — would visit Georgia to discuss “crops.”
“This could be interesting for you and others,” the Russian oligarch supposedly said in the recording, dated March 10. “If you sign up for this affair, I would do it.”
In a second recording, dated March 12, Ivanishvili supposedly told Yevtushenkov that he had sent the two visitors from Russia to meet the Prime Minister, and his long-time associate – Irakli Garibashvili.
“He [Garibashvili] is young and will take care of everything. I told him what to do and they are probably already meeting each other,” the Georgian billionaire supposedly added.
The sanctioned Russian oligarch can then be heard asking Ivanishvili to personally sit down with the envoys, with the sides agreeing that a meeting could take place the next day.
Yevtushenkov came under British sanctions on April 13, with a financial notice from the UK Government saying the oligarch has been involved in obtaining a benefit or supporting the Kremlin “by virtue of his ownership of a Sistema JSFC,” a strategically important conglomerate for the Russian Government.
Immediately after being hit with sanctions, the tycoon ceded the control over the Sistema conglomerate, transferring a 10% stake to his son, Felix Yevtushenkov. A Reuters brief on April 13 said Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s shareholding at Sistema had decreased to 49.2%, while his son’s had increased to 15.2%.
Ali Uzdenov, Yevtushenkov’s associate mentioned in the recordings serves as the Senior Managing Partner and a member of the Management Board at the Sistema JSCFC, as well as as the chair of the Board of Directors at Steppe Agroholding, a subsidiary of the Russian conglomerate.
The Steppe Agroholding is a major player in crop farming in Russia, with more than 1,5 million tons of gross annual yield from farms in the Krasnodar, Stavropol and Rostov regions, including 700,000 tons of wheat harvested per year.
Meanwhile, David Khidasheli, supposedly mentioned in the recording has previously served as an executive vice-president of the Sistema JSFC from 2007 to 2014.
Khidasheli was also involved in the notorious “Cartographers’ Case,” after Ivanishvili supposedly tasked him to obtain maps of the revered David Gareji Monastery in Georgia, based on which the authorities launched a controversial probe into attempted land-ceding to Azerbaijan in the heat of 2020 pre-election period. MORE.
Another ethnic Georgian tycoon David Iakobashvili, a member of the Board of Directors of the Sistema JSFC, meanwhile resigned from his position on April 25, alongside Anna Belova acting chair of the board.
The General Secretary of the United National Movement party, Petre Tsiskarishvili argued late on April 25 that Yevtushenkov could be working with Ivanishvili on a scheme to evade sanctions slapped on Russia over its brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Tsiskarishvili further argued the recording could only be a minor fragment, speculating that there are other parts of the supposed conversation between the businessmen. Issuing the fragment first could be a warning to Ivanishvili that he would be hit with sanctions “unless he acts properly,” he claimed.
“As usual, such warnings do not have an effect on oligarchs,” he added, calling for immediate sanctions against Ivanishvili.
Tsiskarishvili also recalled the claim by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Intelligence that Georgian authorities had allowed Russia to set up a smuggling channel through its territory. “Besides this recording, relevant intelligence agencies and our Ukrainian friends and partners probably already have additional information,” he stressed.
Opposition Lelo party meanwhile issued a statement highlighting that if the recordings are authentic, “PM Garibashvili and his informal superior Bidzina Ivanishvili could be considered guilty of aiding sanctions evasion.”
They called on the Prime Minister to disclose information about his possible meeting with the envoys purportedly dispatched by the sanctioned Russian oligarch.
“Complying with the sanctions regime against Russia is the key priority of EU and NATO member states,” the party said, adding that any doubts that Georgia does not uphold the measures would threaten its course of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, including its EU membership application.
GD Leaders Come to Founder’s Aid
Georgian Dream chair Irakli Kobakhidze said today that even if the recordings are authentic, nothing notable is being discussed, only “some trade relations.”
“There is nothing unlawful or immoral in the fact that Georgia maintains trade relations [with Russia], especially when Ukraine also maintains such type of relations,” the GD leader added.
He further argued the covert recordings could be related to a “revolutionary” scenario allegedly plotted by the opposition.
Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker today doubted the authenticity of the recordings, arguing they were obviously “montaged.”
He claimed the dissemination of the recordings was part of a “disinformation campaign against Georgia to cause unrest so that Georgia is dragged into the war.” To this end, Speaker Papuashvili claimed that the UNM, government-critical media and the Shame Movement were trying to make the recordings relevant.
This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)