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Critical TV Chief Verdict “Unfounded,” Watchdog Says

The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), a local watchdog, said today that the ruling against government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV Chief Nika Gvaramia — sentenced to 3.5 years on May 16 — is “unfounded,” after carrying out a comprehensive review of the reasoned verdict.

The watchdog added that evidence in the case also shows that there were no “elements of crime” in Gvaramia’s actions.

Tbilisi City Court judge Lasha Chkhikvadze ruled to convict Gvaramia on two instances of abuse of power as the general director of Rustavi 2 TV, his former workplace, resulting in financial damages to the company.

The TV boss was handed a prison sentence for striking a deal in 2017 with Porsche Center Tbilisi to receive a Porsche Macan S t in exchange for placing ads on the channel for a discounted price. The automobile was pro forma registered in the ownership of an ads agency — intermediary between the TV station and the Porsche Center — but was in fact owned and used by Gvaramia and his family, per the official account.

As for the second instance, Gvaramia received a GEL of 50 thousand (USD 17 thousand), for reducing Rustavi 2 ad placement prices in 2015 and causing losses of GEL 6.76 million (USD 2.2 million). The Mtavari Arkhi TV chief was freed from the fine due to Georgia’s concurrent sentencing.

In the same case, the Court handed a fine of GEL 50 thousand to former financial director of Rustavi 2 TV, Kakhaber Damenia guilty of abuse of power in 2015, and acquitted Zurab Iashvili, another suspect in the probe, of all charges.

Abuse of Power in 2017

GYLA argued that the prosecution had not proven its evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, as required for the Court to pass a guilty verdict, which led to Gvaramia’s incarceration.

Besides, the watchdog said that the judge’s arguments in the verdict were “contradictory.”

Namely, the justice apparently reasoned during the hearing that Gvaramia went for a “criminal scheme” to exploit the automobile even though he could have received it in his ownership legally, as a bonus from the Rustavi 2 TV.

“It is incomprehensible why a person would have the desire to receive something he is entitled to [lawfully] through illegal means,” the watchdog asserted in its assessment of the judge’s reasoning.

With the argument, according to GYLA, the Court essentially found that it would have been permissible by law for Gvaramia, as the director of Rustavi 2 TV, to award himself the said bonus, even though the financial impact of the Porsche Center deal on the TV station would have remained the same.

Abuse of Power in 2015

GYLA argued that Gvaramia’s “managerial decision” of 2015, to revise the advertisement contract and its subsequent impact on the company should not be subject to criminal liability at all.

Still, the watchdog pointed out that while the judge had argued that he would assess the motivations of the suspects not by the substance of their actions but by “existing preconditions,” he did not “completely and objectively” consider the developments surrounding the TV company in 2015, when its former owner Kibar Khalvashi — who following a lengthy battle took over and fired Gvaramia in 2019 — launched a court dispute, resulting in the Rustavi 2 TV assets being frozen.

The judge also made a “completely incomprehensible” argument that Gvaramia, having a “reasonable expectation” of Khalvashi’s return as an owner, had aimed to harm the TV station by cutting the advertisement prices.

“The court, relying on the reasoning that there was an intention on part of the suspect [Gvaramia] to harm the TV company, does not ask why the said [practice] did not continue consistently in the following periods,” GYLA pointed out.

Proportionality of the Sentence

As for the proportionality of the sentence, GYLA found that the court verdict was “particularly unfounded.”

The watchdog said that the judge’s key reasoning to send Gvaramia to prison over the abuse of power of 2017 was that the TV Chief had earlier said he would not pay any kind of fine. GYLA pointed out that the Georgian Criminal Code does include separate provisions on the legal consequences of evading a fine.

Referring to the same code, GYLA clarified that in determining the sentence, the judge should take into account the goals penalty — restoration of justice, prevention of a new crime, and re-socialization of the offender.

Against this backdrop, the watchdog found fault with the justice’s decision to fine Gvaramia GEL 50,000 for a crime that brought alleged damages in the millions but to imprison the TV boss over exploiting an automobile that he could have lawfully given himself as a bonus, by the judge’s own reasoning earlier.

Judge’s Refusal to Recuse Himself

Per GYLA’s assessment, the judge was also unable to resolve questions over his impartiality due to his close friendship with the director of the current holding company of the Rustavi 2.

According to GYLA, the judge argued that there were no preconditions and other circumstances provided for in the Criminal Procedure Code to recuse himself.

The justice did not consider either the overall context or his friend’s possible vested interest in the verdict, as per the watchdog’s report.

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