Is Georgia a Captured State? - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო
GEO

Is Georgia a Captured State?

11 December, 2020

 

Georgian civil society organizations have talked about the problem of informal governance in Georgia for years. In 2018, this assessment was made even graver when international organizations also began to raise concern about democratic backsliding and signs of state capture.[1] Evidence accumulated by the end of the second term of the Georgian Dream’s governance is sufficient to argue that corruption in Georgia has assumed the form of state capture.

As it stands today, a single person keeps a firm grip on Georgia’s executive government that has been made free of democratic checks and balances through weak Parliamentary oversight and an unofficial pact of no interference and mutual support with an influential group of judges in complete control of the judiciary. Without holding any official position of public accountability, Bidzina Ivanishvili has successfully managed to place key Georgian public institutions, including ones supposed to be independent by law, in the service of his private business interests and security.

Transparency International defines state capture as “a situation where powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within or outside a country use corruption to shape a nation’s policies, legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests”.[2] State capture is mainly manifested in the distortion of the functions of public agencies and democratic institutions, as a result of which they are put in the service of private interests of specific individuals, at the expense of the needs of the country and its population. Thus, state capture is an extremely grave form of corruption that is difficult to overcome and that can cause a serious and long-term damage to a country aiming at democratic development.

The symptoms of state capture are many. All branches of government and/or individual institutions, such as independent regulatory bodies, can be hit. In Georgia, signs of state capture are evident in all three branches of government. In this report we will systematically cover each area that exhibits signs of state capture in Georgia, and demonstrate how the captured public institutions are used in practice.

Background - Bidzina Ivanisvhili and the Georgian Dream

Georgia’s current ruling party Georgian Dream was founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in 2012 and won the parliamentary elections the same year. Although it was initially a coalition of several parties, the coalition gradually dissolved, with the core Georgian Dream party obtaining a constitutional majority in the Parliament in 2016 (which it held until 2019). Georgian Dream also has overwhelming representation on the local government level - since 2012, nearly all municipal administrations have been run by Georgian Dream member mayors and all municipal councils have Georgian Dream as a majority.

Apart from serving as prime minister for a short period in 2012-2013, Ivanishvili has held no public office. In the run-up to the presidential election in 2018, he yet again assumed the role of the chairperson of Georgian Dream, but nevertheless remained largely outside the public eye.

The richest man in Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose wealth is estimated to be worth 5.5 bn USD,[3] or about 30% of Georgia’s GDP,[4] prefers to keep his wealth hidden through proxies and offshore companies.[5] The fact that Ivanishvili has not had to file a public official’s asset declaration since 2013 and that Georgia does not have a beneficial ownership registry, have made it difficult for civil society and investigative journalists to keep track of Ivanishvili’s business interests. Ivanishvili has leveraged this lack of transparency over the years to rule from the shadows through various informal power structures.

The Executive and Law Enforcement

The highest positions of key executive branch bodies, including the highest-spending ministries and law enforcement agencies, in Georgia have been staffed by persons who are loyal to Bidzina Ivanishvili or have worked for him in the past:

  • Former Prime Ministers Irakli Gharibashvili and Giorgi Kvirikashvili previously held leading positions at Bidzina Ivanishvili’s companies – JSC Cartu Bank, Cartu Fund.[6] Irakli Gharibashvili became the Minister of Defense in 2019.
  • Minister of Internal Affairs Vakhtang Gomelauri used to be the head of Ivanishvili’s personal bodyguard service.[7] Gomelauri also headed the State Security Service in 2015-2019.
  • Former General Prosecutor Shalva Tadumadze used to be Ivanishvili’s personal lawyer. In 2012, after Ivanishvili became prime minister, Tadumadze became Parliamentary Secretary of the Georgian Government; in 2018, he became Head of Government Administration for a short time. After holding the position of General Prosecutor, Tadumadze became the Deputy Chair of the Supreme Court in 2019.[8]
  • Head of the State Security Service Grigol Liluashvili previously held leading positions in a number of companies belonging to Bidzina Ivanishvili – JSC Cartu Bank, Cartu Group, LLC Old City Development, LLC Burji, LLC Cartu Mshenebeli.[9] Liluashvili was also a Member of Parliament in 2016-17 and held the position of Deputy Mayor of Tbilisi before that.
  • Minister of Infrastructure Maia Tskitishvili, like former Minister Nodar Javakhishvili, used to work in Bidzina Ivanishvili’s companies – JSC Cartu Bank, LLC Cartu Management, LLC Burji. In 2012-2018 Tskitishvili held the position of Head of Government Administration.
  • Minister of Healthcare Ekaterine Tikaradze, like former Minister Davit Sergeenko, was the director of the private multifunctional hospital in Sachkhere (Bidzina Ivanishvili’s home municipality) funded by Ivanishvili’s Cartu Fund.
  • Former Minister of Economy, Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Dimitri Kumsishvili used to be the director of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s company JSC Cartu Bank.
  • Head of the Special State Protection Service Anzor Chubinidze used to be the head of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s personal bodyguard service.[10]

The appointment of Ivanishvili’s associates to key positions is by no means an exception. Transparency International Georgia has identified numerous such cases since 2012.[11] [12]

More importantly, the dismissal and appointment of many of these key public officials, especially the prime ministers, suggests that the decision was being made by Bidzina Ivanishvili personally, in some cases bypassing the legal procedures altogether. Even though, according to the Constitution, the Government of Georgia is accountable to the Parliament, the role of the Parliament in the changes that have occurred within the executive has been minimal. Meanwhile, current and former members of Georgian Dream have openly spoken about Bidzina Ivanishvili’s direct participation in the government appointments.[13]

For example, Irakli Gharibashvili, current Defense Minister and political secretary of the Georgian Dream party and former Prime Minister, assessed the process of changing of prime ministers in recent years as follows: “Actually, [political] power, the mandate belonged, belongs to Mr. Bidzina. Everyone forgets this. And by everyone I mean everyone”.[14]

According to former Georgian Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili, neither Irakli Gharibashvili nor Giorgi Kvirikashvili were entirely free in their staff appointment policies while occupying the Prime Minister’s post, and this includes the appointment of the Cabinet of Ministers and the offices where the appointment procedure is determined by the law. Bidzina Ivanishvili was particularly interested in the Prosecutor’s Office and the Security Service since establishing control over these agencies would allow maintaining the kind of order that he wanted. In addition, in individual cases, Bidzina Ivanishvili attended the meetings concerning the changes within the Cabinet without holding any official status. No consultations were held with the parliamentary majority concerning Irakli Gharibashvili’s decision to resign.[15]

It is this influence over the law enforcement authorities that has raised the most questions and concerns over the capture of public institutions and their use for political and personal purposes. Multiple recent cases have reinforced this suspicion. (see section titled How captured institutions are used in practice). Unlike the position of minister, where a representative of the ruling political team can be appointed, the General Prosecutor and the Head of the State Security Service are by law supposed to be impartial, which is not the case today.

Incidentally, it is the Prosecutor’s Office and the State Security Service that are tasked with investigating corruption, a task both institutions have overwhelmingly failed at when it comes to high-profile corruption cases involving members of the ruling party or its close associates. The European Parliament Resolution adopted in 2018 notes that “high-level elite corruption remains a serious issue”.[16] In this context, it is also important to note that in 2016-2020 anti-corruption reforms have practically stalled in Georgia.[17]

Particularly concerning is the undue influence over the State Security Service. According to local non-governmental organizations, the State Security Service is an absolutely closed and opaque body, external control of which is practically impossible.[18] The excessive power concentrated in this body and weak external oversight make it a mechanism of total control, which is contrary to the principles of a democratic state.[19]

The Judiciary

Balancing the power held by the executive is one of the main functions of the judiciary. However, only an independent judiciary can perform this function. Even though “restoring justice” was one of the main pre-election promises of the Georgian Dream, it appears that over time the government rejected the idea of ​​creating an independent judiciary altogether. Even after several reform waves, the court administration remains in the hands of a small group of influential judges, which is commonly referred to as the ‘clan’.[20]

The influential group of judges, who have been associated with an unfair and obedient judicial system during the previous government, gained power in the judiciary after being elected to the High Council of Justice in 2013.[21] The Georgian Dream initially tried to review the controversial court cases that were heard during the previous government in order to identify violations, but this intimidated many of the judges and pushed them to mobilize around the so-called ‘clan’. The government approach changed soon after. In 2015-2016, before the parliamentary elections, several meetings were held between the influential judges and high-ranking government officials, as well as Bidzina Ivanishvili, who at that time had the status of a regular citizen. As a result of these meetings, a certain kind of understanding of no interference and mutual support was formed between the Georgian Dream and the so-called clan.[22]

Over the next four years, the influential group of judges in the High Council of Justice expanded their influence and control over the rest of the judicial system with the help of the Georgian Dream constitutional majority in the Parliament, securing important administrative positions in the common courts system, and a majority of seats in both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. Loyal judges were appointed to these positions through controversy ridden, non-transparent processes that received serious criticism from both local civil society groups and international organizations.[23]

This arrangement secured the ruling party’s influence over the judiciary, which currently fails to fulfill the constitutional function of upholding justice and keeping the executive government accountable, but rather helps it secure its political objectives by issuing rulings that are favorable to the ruling party in exchange for government assistance in securing control over the rest of the judiciary. Multiple high-profile cases in the recent years clearly illustrate how this arrangement works in practice (see section titled How captured institutions are used in practice).[24]

It should be noted that in recent years there has been some improvement in the quality of justice on regular, non-politically charged cases. Hearings on such cases are more or less acceptable, the main challenges still being the quality of justice and the delayed hearings.[25]

The Parliament

After the 2017 constitutional amendments, Georgia has completely moved to the model of a parliamentary republic. This means that the Parliament is supposed to be the main institution keeping the executive in check. Unfortunately, the Parliament has largely failed to become an independent and strong democratic institution capable of withstanding outside informal influences.[26] The Georgian Dream held a constitutional majority in Parliament from 2016 until 2019. During this time, there were signs that a range of real political decisions were being made outside of the Parliament, which weakened the legislature’s role and, in some cases, reduced its work to rubber-stamping decisions made elsewhere.[27]

For example, Georgian Dream adopted the most recent constitutional amendments unilaterally, without a consensus of the stakeholders involved. It consulted the international community but largely ignored opposition parties, civil society, and the presidential office.[28]

Undue external influence has been identified as one of the main threats to the Parliament's independence. Despite the fact that the law provides both the Parliament as a whole and each MP separately with firm guarantees of independence, their independence is not protected sufficiently in practice. Examples of external pressure on the Parliament are criminal prosecutions of and use of sex tapes to blackmail MPs.[29]

The Parliament largely failed to exercise strong oversight of the executive. Despite improvements in the relevant legislation and some positive changes in practice, members of parliament failed to demonstrate a high degree of independence in exercising parliamentary oversight, while members of the government did not take their responsibility to be accountable to the Parliament seriously. For example, during the 2019 spring session, government representatives ignored 20 of the 32 parliamentary summons initiated by the opposition factions.[30]

The last two convocations (2012-2020) of Parliament hardly ever used the most powerful oversight mechanism at their disposal – the temporary investigative commission. The initiators of setting up such commissions in most cases were opposition MPs, but the requests were routinely voted down by the majority. During the last 8 years, only a single investigative commission was established on the case of “Khorava Street Murders”, which was preceded by widespread public protest and numerous rallies; however, even in this case, the conclusion of the commission was not shared by the parliamentary majority, which chose to prepare an alternative conclusion instead.[31] Parliamentary oversight also did not address corruption issues – no thematic inquiry group or investigative commission has been set up on the issue of corruption.[32]

According to Davit Usupashvili, Speaker of Parliament in 2012-2015 and then member of the Georgian Dream coalition, the parliamentary oversight of the executive and the latter’s accountability are not effectively implemented in practice. The executive branch feels accountable to the centre of (informal) authority that exists beyond the Constitution.[33]

The President

The current President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili was elected in 2018. Formally an independent candidate, in practice she was supported by the Georgian Dream party, which mobilized administrative resources as well as its regular political donors to secure her victory through the second round of election.[34]

The previous president Giorgi Margvelashvili originally was a Georgian Dream candidate. Soon after being elected as president, he fell out with the party and its leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, who expressed regret about Margvelashvili “showing character”.[35] The Georgian Dream spent the following four years ignoring or actively confronting the President, who, in turn, actively opposed controversial legislation proposed by the ruling party by routinely vetoing it (11 vetoes in 4 years)[36] as well as withdrawing in protest from the commission charged with amending the constitution.[37]

Salome Zurabishvili, on the other hand, has not used a single presidential veto and has not expressed any dissenting opinion towards the Georgian Dream. The president has mostly been spending her time traveling around the country, almost completely disengaged from internal politics.

Media

Although Georgian legislation includes strong safeguards for media freedom, in practice, the independence of the Georgian media is not ensured. Evidence accumulated from multiple high-profile cases over the past several years suggests that the authorities are using financial instruments,[38] the judiciary and law enforcement agencies to put pressure on independent TV stations (see section titled How captured institutions are used in practice).[39]

Impartiality of the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) – There are legitimate questions with regard to the GNCC’s independence and the government’s influence over it.[40] The Commission is headed by Kakha Bekauri, who used to be the director of Channel 9 – a TV company founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili in 2012, while his wife Eka Beridze used to be an anchor at the same station.[41] Individual statements, projects and legislative proposals made by the Commission are mainly aimed at restricting the activities of the media critical of the government and discrediting them.[42]

Creation of a Pro-Government Media Holding – There has been a process of consolidation of government-friendly broadcasters in recent years. In 2017, Imedi Media Holding bought GDS TV, which was until then owned by the family of Bidzina Ivanishvili. Maestro TV, which was critical of the previous government, was likewise acquired by Imedi Media Holding.[43] During the 2018 presidential election, the family of the owners of Imedi TV made political donations to President Salome Zourabichvili. The donations amounted to GEL180 000.[44] Prior to the second round of the same election, the leadership of Imedi TV issued a special statement announcing the TV company entering into an ‘emergency mode’ to prevent the United National Movement from returning to power.[45] In early 2020, the Charter of Journalistic Ethics found that the current director of Imedi Nika Laliashvili had grossly interfered in the editorial policy of Maestro (part of the Imedi holding), forcing journalists to act against their conscience in their professional activities.[46] Today Imedi TV is one of the most popular broadcasters in Georgia and is openly supportive of the Georgian Dream.[47]

Subduing of the Georgian Public Broadcaster – The Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), which almost always used to be friendly towards the government, has seen the establishment of an editorial policy that is markedly more favorable towards the Georgian Dread government in recent years.[48] The fact that the board of trustees in 2017 selected a close affiliate of Bidzina Ivanishvili to the position of GPB director-general, raised concerns about political interests interfering in the board’s decision-making process. Director-General Vasil Maghlaperidze had previously worked for broadcasters owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili: GDS TV and TV9.[49] Following the appointment of Maghlaperidze, a dozen of former and current GDS TV employees were hired by the GPB without competition, including for managerial positions.[50] Maghlaperidze resigned in 2020, claiming his wish to dispel any doubts about the broadcaster’s impartiality,[51] however, he was replaced by his close associate Tinatin Berdzenishvili, who pledged to continue her predecessor’s policy.[52]

Especially troubling were recent developments in the regional public service broadcaster Adjara TV, which, according to both local and international observers, was characterized by having a neutral editorial policy since 2016. In 2019, Natia Kapanadze was dismissed from the position of director through an unsubstantiated impeachment.[53] The Georgian Dream-majority Advisory Board elected Giorgi Kokhreidze as the channel’s new director, who, from the very first day of being elected, started persecuting, harassing, illegally dismissing and blackmailing independent and critical journalists. As a result, the editorial policy of Adjara TV has become less critical.[54]

How captured state institutions are used in practice

Numerous high-profile cases have accumulated over the past several years that illustrate how informal influence over the executive branch, the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary have warped these institutions into instruments by means of which the Georgian Dream and its leader are able to achieve various political and personal objectives. The list of high-profile cases presented below is by no means exhaustive. In many of these cases, no investigation has been launched at all. In cases when an investigation was launched, independent observers have found some combination of lack of evidence, preferential treatment, impunity, arbitrary and politically motivated decision-making, procedural violations or outright fabrication:

1. Fabricating criminal cases for election purposes

The Cartographers Case: Several weeks before the 2020 parliamentary elections, the General Prosecutor’s Office detained two former members of the Commission for Delimitation and Demarcation of the State Border between Georgia and Azerbaijan and charged with performing actions aimed at the violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity.[55] A legal analysis carried out by a local non-governmental organization concluded that the pressed charges were quite clearly unfounded.[56] The substance of the case, the time when the investigation was started (the pre-election context), signs of selective approach in the process of the investigation and unsubstantiated and populist public accusations made by the ruling party leaders have raised a reasonable suspicion that the launch of the investigation served election purposes and was aimed at discrediting political opponents.[57]

2. Mass scale vote-buying

After the first round of the presidential election in 2018, the Cartu Foundation owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili, promised to write-off debts for 600,000 citizens. This was a blatant instance of vote buying and misuse of administrative resources since the Georgian Government was actively involved in the implementation process.[58] No investigation has been conducted to address this issue.

3. Ignoring legitimate claims concerning election manipulation

After the first round of the 2020 parliamentary elections, election observation organisations and political parties took legal action demanding a recount in the problematic polling stations. Transparency International Georgia alone went to court demanding to invalidate ballots and recount votes in 42 polling stations of 11 districts. District courts did not satisfy 92.8% and the courts of appeal – 100% of our claims.[59] The court used a similar approach with regard to hundreds of claims filed by other organisations and political parties, exacerbating the post-election political crisis even further.

4. Persecution of political opponents

Transparency International Georgia put together a list of eight recent high-profile criminal cases that have been launched against political opponents of the ruling party and representatives of the media critical of the government. Each one of these cases is characterised by various combinations of the following suspicious circumstances: 1. The launch of investigations or court proceedings coincided with the accused becoming more politically active; 2. Cases are heard by judges loyal to the so-called ‘clan’ within the judiciary; 3. Insufficient evidence is used or guarantees of the right to fair trial are ignored. Our research has shown that “the Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary are acting in concert with the ruling party with the aim to remove individuals critical of the authorities from political processes”.[60]

5. Keeping key members of the informal power vertical out of trouble

Cases linked to Otar Partskhaladze: Otar Partskhaladze is a person closely connected to the family of Bidzina Ivanishvili and is considered one of the key members of its informal power network. For a month and a half in 2013, he held the post of the Chief Prosecutor. When it became known that he had had a criminal record in Germany, he had to resign.[61] Since then, Otar Partskhaladze has been involved in several high-profile cases (for example, the so-called Omega Group Case), pointing to his role in the process of informal deal-making.[62] After resigning from the post of the chief prosecutor, Otar Partskhaladze managed to suspiciously quickly accumulate a sizable fortune.[63] No investigation has been launched into his participation in an alleged corruption-related crime uncovered by the State Audit Office;[64] An investigation was launched into an assault that Otar Partskhaladze committed against former General Auditor Lasha Tordia, but it has not been completed.[65]

6. Establishing control over lucrative business sectors

The Omega Group Case: In 2018, secret audio recordings were made public; according to the tapes, a deal was made between private companies, representatives of various government institutions and influential individuals connected to the ruling party leadership; the deal involved using the powers of public officials to ensure a dominant position for these companies in the tobacco market. The income generated as a result would be distributed amongst these companies and the groups linked to the ruling party. The names of Deputy Prime Minister Dimitri Kumsishvili, Competition Agency head Nodar Khaduri, former Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze and ruling party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili were mentioned in these recordings.[66] This case has not been investigated.

7. Persecuting businessmen that refuse to play by the rules

The TBC Bank Case: In 2018, in the run up to the presidential election, the Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into a 10-year-old case, bringing money laundering charges against TBC Bank founders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze.[67] Numerous suspicious circumstances gave rise to legitimate questions concerning the true reasons for the investigation.[68] An expert invited by Transparency International Georgia through an open international competition in 2019 confirmed that, based on the case materials, referring to money laundering should not have been even possible.[69]

Mamuka Khazaradze’s statement about a letter containing a threat that he had received in the run up to the second round of the 2018 presidential election was particularly alarming. The letter came from then Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Gakharia (now Prime Minister) who insisted that Khazaradze had to meet certain demands, threatening to otherwise tarnish his reputation inside and outside the country.[70] In the same statement, Khazaradze spoke about an orchestrated attack against him by the different branches of government.

In a 2018 interview, Bidzina Ivanishvili himself confirmed that meetings were being held between businessmen behind closed doors, mentioning that Mamuka Khazaradze had failed to thank him properly.[71] The meeting, which was held at Ivanishvili’s personal residence,[72] was also attended by Vano Chkhartishvili, a close business associate of Ivanishvili, and Irakli Shotadze, the then Chief and current General Prosecutor. According to Khazardze, Ivanishvili tried to intimidate him with prosecution by having the Chief Prosecutor present at the meeting.[73]

8. Using compromising material to blackmail political opponents

There have been many instances of blackmail in recent years when illegal secret recordings were disseminated in violation of the right to private life. In almost all cases, the target was a politician or an active citizen who openly criticised the government. The most recent target of such blackmail was an MP,[74] who had challenged Georgian Dream and resigned from the position of Chair of the Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee in an attempt to halt the controversy-ridden process of granting lifetime judicial appointments to the Supreme Court.[75]

9. Fabricating criminal cases to get rid of former allies

The Cables Case: In 2015, the court started hearing a criminal case against high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Defence. The indictment in this case was preceded by an open confrontation between then Defence Minister Irakli Alasania (and leader of one of the political parties composing the Georgian Dream coalition at the time) and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, which eventually resulted in the dismissal of Irakli Alasania from his post on 4 November 2014. The events that unfolded around the “Cables Case” raised legitimate suspicions that the administration of justice had been flawed and the process – politicised.[76]

10. Turning a blind eye to corruption-related crimes of high-ranking officials

Even though numerous alleged corruption cases involving high-ranking officials have been uncovered by the media and civil society in recent years, no appropriate response has followed. This has created a reasonable suspicion that the investigative bodies are turning a blind eye to high-level corruption. No probe has been launched into almost any of the dozens of alleged corruption cases uncovered by Transparency International Georgia alone. Some of the cases uncovered by other organisations include: alleged corruption schemes at the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure;[77] suspicious enrichment of public officials serving in the State Security Service,[78] the Ministry of Justice,[79] and the Staff of the Prime Minister;[80] high-value assets of high-ranking officials (including MPs, ministers and judges).[81]

11. Cracking down on peaceful expressions of political discontent

After the dispersal of the 20 June 2019 protest rallies, which resulted in injuries to numerous protesters and over 30 journalists, the practice of using excessive, disproportionate force against peaceful demonstrations has been established. Most recently, a protest rally held outside the Central Election Commission on November 8 was dispersed using a water cannon; journalists were injured this time as well, which was assessed as a gross violation of journalists’ rights and yet another interference in their professional activity.[82] It has also become an established practice to arrest and fine protesters, while their trials are marked by non-existent evidence, procedural violations and politically motivated decision making.

12. Adapting laws to fit Bidzina Ivanishvili’s personal projects

The story of implementation of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s two personal projects – Panorama Tbilisi[83] and Shekvetili Dendrological Park[84] – is a good illustration of how, if need be, any procedure, regulation or law at any level of government is completely ignored and adapted to meet the personal interests and wishes of the head of the informal power structure, Bidzina Ivanishvili.

13. Harassing media critical of the authorities

The ruling party is actively using its influence on the law enforcement bodies and the judiciary against the media that are critical of the government, including broadcaster owners, managers and their family members.

Rustavi 2: The country’s main opposition TV channel, Rustavi 2, was handed over to one of its former owners as a result of a legal dispute. At the time, this legal dispute was assessed as the government’s attempt to establish control over an opposition media outlet.[85] Indeed, after its owner was changed, the TV company’s new director dismissed its top journalists with over 60 journalists leaving the channel in protest,[86] which eventually resulted in the development of an editorial policy less critical of the government.[87]

Mtavari Arkhi: After the change in Rustavi 2 ownership, the company’s former director Nika Gvaramia founded a new TV company, Mtavari Arkhi; some of the journalists who had left Rustavi 2 started working there. After that: 1. The Prosecutor’s Office brought charges against Nika Gvaramia, which was criticised by both the civil society sector and the Public Defender; 2. The Prosecutor’s Office also arrested Giorgi Rurua, a co-owner and founder of Mtavari Arkhi, on suspicious charges, and subsequently aggravating them, which was also assessed as being politically motivated. The court sentenced Rurua to four years in prison.[88]

Formula TV: As part of the Nika Gvaramia case, the Prosecutor’s Office also questioned Zurab Gumbaridze, Director-General of yet another critical media outlet Formula TV.[89]

TV Pirveli: As early as in 2018, a representative of this TV company spoke about ‘alarming signals’ coming from the government, related to changing of the broadcaster’s editorial policy. In the summer of 2019, Avtandil Tsereteli, father of the TV Pirveli’s founder, was charged with legalisation of illegal income. Local civil society actors have assessed this case as an attempt to restrict the expression of critical views. Several days before the 2020 elections, Avtandil Tsereteli stated that he had received an in person death threat unless TV Pirveli changed its editorial policy to be in favor of the authorities.[90]

Iberia TV: Shortly before the 2018 presidential election, television company Iberia closed down, which was preceded by the government freezing the assets of the channel’s main source of funding – Omega Group.[91]

Conclusion

Georgian Dream’s near total control over all branches and levels of government would, by itself, be a significant challenge for the country’s democratic governance and effective fight against corruption. The situation, however, is further aggravated by the fact that, rather than being an amalgamation of diverse political and social interests, the ruling party is essentially a tool for its leader’s pursuit of his private goals.

There is mounting evidence of a monopoly of decision-making power resting in the hands of a single person (often referred to as an 'oligarch'), as well as signs of collusive networks that serve the sole purpose of solidifying the ruling party’s power in all branches of government.

Especially worrying is that both the legislature and the judiciary are controlled by these networks, thereby failing to uphold a sound system of democratic checks and balances in the country. It is also clear that law-enforcement structures are misused for political purposes and are not up to the challenge of carrying out unbiased investigations into cases of elite corruption and the misuse of power, which further suggests that a number of high-profile individuals within the ruling party’s network enjoy impunity.

The 2020 parliamentary elections were supposed to remedy the situation by creating a Parliament with enough opposition representation to enable this institution to push back against informal governance and increasing state capture. Instead, the 2020 elections appeared to be the worst since 2012.[92] Observers’ concerns included the alleged misuse of state administrative resources, voter intimidation, vote-buying, the manipulation of precinct-level summary protocols, blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state and a results management process that failed to meet international standards.[93]

While the post-election crisis is ongoing as this analysis is being prepared, one thing remains clear – until the informal power structures are dismantled and effective anti-corruption policies are put in place, Georgia can never reach its full potential in both economic and democratic terms.

[1] Transparency International Georgia, Corruption Perceptions Index 2018: Failure To Investigate High-Level Corruption Causing Lack of Progress, January 29, 2019, https://bit.ly/2Iv0L4n

[2] Transparency International, Plain Language Guide, 2019, http://bit.ly/2Pq3tY1

[3] Bloomberg, Bloomberg Billionaires Index - Bidzina Ivanishvili, December 9, 2020, https://bit.ly/342wuS1

[4] National Statistics Office of Georgia, https://www.geostat.ge/en

[5] Transparency International Georgia, Offshore companies and other business connections of Bidzina Ivanishvili, November 2, 2018, https://bit.ly/36YsHXW

[6] Transparency International Georgia, Ivanishvili's companies – the forge for government officials, May 1, 2015, http://bit.do/ePTzY

[7] Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (Georgia Service), State Security in Service of the Country, Government or Ivanishvili?, September 3, 2019, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/2JVSZkG

[8] Tabula, Tadumadze: There are two billionaires in the country and I have served both of their families with my diploma, July 16, 2018, (in Georgian), http://bit.ly/2NsBneW

[9] Transparency International Georgia, Ivanishvili’s Companies – Public Officials’ Talent Pool Three Years Later, October 8, 2018, http://bit.ly/2sr9Fb7

[10] Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (Georgia Service), The Role of Former Head of Ivanishvili’s Personal Bodyguard Service in the June 20 Crackdown, June 24, 2019, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/370vJLq

[11] Transparency International Georgia, Ivanishvili's companies – the forge for government officials, May 1, 2015, http://bit.do/ePTzY

[12] Transparency International Georgia, Ivanishvili’s Companies – Public Officials’ Talent Pool Three Years Later, October 8, 2018, http://bit.ly/2sr9Fb7

[13] Transparency International Georgia, Georgia National Integrity System Assessment (NIS) 2020, June 26, 2020, https://bit.ly/3oFQiCz

[14] On.ge, Gharibashvili: power belongs to Ivanishvili, everyone forgets this, March 5, 2019, (in Georgian), http://go.on.ge/10fu

[15] Transparency International Georgia, Georgia National Integrity System Assessment (NIS) 2020, June 26, 2020, https://bit.ly/3oFQiCz

[16] European Parliament, European Parliament resolution on the implementation of the EU Association Agreement with Georgia, November 14, 2018, https://bit.ly/37M4LGh

[17] Transparency International Georgia, Corruption and Anti-Corruption Policy in Georgia: 2016-2020, October 21, 2020, https://bit.ly/3n3jFyj

[18] Transparency International Georgia, Non-governmental organizations address the parliament of Georgia to propose an investigative commission about ODRs, March 21, 2016, https://bit.ly/3nj6c5u

[19] Transparency International Georgia, Legislative Amendments to Reinstate and Strengthen the Soviet-Style Practice of Planting Security Officers on an Unprecedented Scale, November 29, 2017 https://bit.ly/2JNZUfS

[20] Transparency International Georgia, The State of the Judicial System 2016-2020, October 30, 2020, https://bit.ly/2JF16ST

[21] Transparency International Georgia, Dream Court Anatomy, February 23, 2019, http://bit.ly/360cdLb

[22] Ibid.

[23] Transparency International Georgia, The State of the Judicial System 2016-2020, 30 October, 2020, https://bit.ly/2JF16ST

[24] Transparency International Georgia, Justice System Against Opponents of the Government, March 9, 2020, https://bit.ly/3gucMUk

[25] Transparency International Georgia, Corruption Risks in Georgian Judiciary, July 5, 2018, https://bit.ly/3oIAuPM

[26] Transparency International Georgia, Georgia National Integrity System Assessment (NIS) 2020, June 26, 2020, https://bit.ly/3oFQiCz

[27] Georgian Institute of Politics, Constitutional Reform in Georgia: Challenges of Implementing the Idea of a Strong Parliament and Analysis of Obstacles, February 23, 2016, (in Georgian) http://bit.ly/2X1oIWl

[28] Transparency International Georgia, Assessment of the work of the State Constitutional Commission, May 2, 2017, https://bit.ly/2PzPvmF

[29] Transparency International Georgia, Georgia National Integrity System Assessment (NIS) 2020, June 26, 2020, https://bit.ly/3oFQiCz

[30] Transparency International Georgia, Parliamentary Control in Georgia, April 13, 2020, https://bit.ly/3qG3fy8

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Interview with Davit Usupashvili, former Speaker of Parliament on 19 June 2019, as part of the 2020 National Integrity System Assessment (NIS), https://bit.ly/3oFQiCz

[34] Transparency International Georgia, Misuse of Administrative Resources during Georgia’s 2018 Presidential Elections, January 10, 2019, https://bit.ly/3acubjt 

[35] Civil.ge, Ex-PM Ivanishvili ‘Disappointed’ in Margvelashvili, March 18, 2014, https://bit.ly/3a0yoq0

[36] On.ge, Giorgi Margvelashvili’s 11 vetos, December 14, 2018, (in Georgian) http://go.on.ge/xc0

[37] Transparency International Georgia, Assessment of the work of the State Constitutional Commission, May 2, 2017, https://bit.ly/37Hk96I

[38] Civil.ge, Georgian Gov’t Slammed for Selective Sanctioning of Indebted Televisions, December 26, 2019, https://bit.ly/3n7EBEx

[39] Transparency International Georgia, Georgia National Integrity System Assessment (NIS) 2020, June 26, 2020, https://bit.ly/3oFQiCz

[40] Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Media Environment in 2016-2020, October 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VYWVDU

[41] Transparency International Georgia, Kakha Bekauri does not meet the qualifications for membership/chairpersonship of the Georgian National Communications Commission, December 11, 2017, https://bit.ly/2IzGz1g

[42] Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Media Environment in 2016-2020, October 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VYWVDU 

[43] Transparency International Georgia, Who Owns Georgia’s Media, April 12, 2019, https://bit.ly/3n7yf86

[44] Ibid.

[45] Imedinews, Imedi is entering emergency mode, October 30, 2018, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/37LjdhX

[46] Netgazeti, Charter of Journalistic Ethics: Nika Laliashvili interfered in the editorial independence of journalists, October 8, 2020, https://bit.ly/3gBwUUp 

[47] Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, Final Report of Elections Media Monitoring 2016-2018, February 15, 2019, http://bit.ly/2Pr2eaW

[48] Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, Second Interim Report of Media Coverage of the 2020 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia, 2020, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/3qGgRJQ 

[49] Transparency International Georgia, The election of Vasil Maghlaperidze points to increasing of political influence on the Public Broadcaster, February 9, 2017, http://bit.ly/2GAVaFT

[50] Transparency International Georgia, Ivanishvili’s Companies – Public Officials’ Talent Pool Three Years Later, October 8, 2018, http://bit.ly/2sr9Fb7

[51] Interpressnews, Director of Channel One Vasil Maghlaperidze Resigns, August 18, 2020, https://bit.ly/3qED6zI

[52] Transparency International Georgia, Public Broadcaster in anticipation of a new director, September 25, 2020, https://bit.ly/3n7BY5A

[53] Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Media Environment in 2016-2020, October 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VYWVDU 

[54] Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, Adjara Public Broadcaster Monitoring Report, July 20, 2020, (in Georgian)  https://bit.ly/37MF34G

[55] Transparency International Georgia, The Cartographers Case - A Politically Motivated Investigation, October 9, 2020, https://bit.ly/3n3PXZY

[56] Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), The Cartographers Case - A Legal Assessment, November 30, 2020, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/373J0Ta

[57] Transparency International Georgia, Misuse of Administrative Resources during Georgia’s 2020 Parliamentary Elections (Interim Report), October 26, 2020, https://bit.ly/3qHpqnB

[58] Transparency International Georgia, The initiative to write off debts represents unprecedented case of alleged vote buying, November 21, 2018, https://bit.ly/2qX3uao

[59] Transparency International Georgia, Facebook post, November 12, 2020, https://bit.ly/2W53TXQ

[60] Transparency International Georgia, Justice System Against Opponents of the Government, March 9, 2020, https://bit.ly/3gucMUk

[61] Transparency International Georgia, Who Owns Georgia, 2019, https://bit.ly/39WYVV9

[62] OC Media, Scandal ridden former Georgian chief prosecutor charged over brawl, November 6, 2018, https://bit.ly/2IHHmxq

[63] Transparency International Georgia, Otar Partskhaladze's Business and Assets, November 9, 2018, https://bit.ly/3n9rCSF

[64] Transparency International Georgia, Unlawful transfer of property to Otar Partskhaladze's company must be investigated, February 28, 2018, https://bit.ly/39Vy0ZT

[65] Civil.ge, Prosecution Charges Former Chief Prosecutor, November 6, 2018, https://bit.ly/340caRt

[66] Transparency International Georgia, Smoke of Corruption: The Grand Scheme to Allocate the Tobacco Market, October 3, 2018, https://bit.ly/34eLson

[67] Transparency International Georgia, An investigation launched against the founders of TBC Bank raise many questions, February 16, 2019, https://bit.ly/2KaGSzX

[68] Transparency International Georgia, Eleven questions about the case of Mamuka Khazaradze and TBC Bank, March 22, 2019, https://bit.ly/37Orkdx

[69] Transparency International Georgia, Assessment of Money Laundering Prosecution of Mamuka Khazaradze, Badri Japaridze and Avtandil Tsereteli, May 14, 2020, https://bit.ly/33XKNrf

[70] Transparency International Georgia, Mamuka Khazaradze’s statement confirms suspicions regarding signs of state capture in Georgia, March 6, 2019, https://bit.ly/3oK963R

[71] Imedinews, Ivanishvili: Vano Chkhartishvili listened to me the most, October 6, 2018, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/2JPxQZp

[72] Netgazeti, What happened during the Chkhartishvili-Ivanishvili meeting – Khazaradze’s version, September 12, 2019 (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/3mb8SAN

[73] Netgazeti, Shotadze claims he attended the Ivanishvili-Khazaradze meeting ‘by accident’, February 4, 2020, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/37PzXoh

[74] Transparency International Georgia, Government Should Exhibit Political Will and Clamp Down on Private Recording Blackmail, January 29, 2019, https://bit.ly/2Uy5y5e

[75] Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (Georgia Service), Eka Beselia has resigned as the Chair of the Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament, December 27, 2018, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/3qG1RLZ

[76] Transparency International Georgia, Corruption Risks in Georgian Judiciary, July 5, 2018, https://bit.ly/3qKiplV

[77] Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (Georgia Service), Corruption schemes in the Ministries of Economy and Infrastructure, July 18, 2018, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/36lWYzo

[78] REGinfo, How the property and income of the family of the Deputy Head of the Security Service grew, May 8, 2017, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/3n2Q8EX

[79] Rustavi 2, Alexander Tabatadze - Official Millionaire from the Government, May 11, 2019, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/2W3gdI1

[80] Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (Georgia Service), Hidden property of high-ranking officials - journalistic investigation, March 9, 2019, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/2WfO68Z

[81] JAMnews, Journalists expose the lavish homes of Georgian MPs and ministers, October 14, 2018, https://bit.ly/3qH03Cn

[82] Transparency International Georgia, Another gross violation of journalists’ rights and interference in professional activities, November 12, 2020, https://bit.ly/3qRIZKa

[83] Transparency International Georgia, Who Owns Georgia, 2019, pg. 32-43, https://bit.ly/39WYVV9

[84] Ibid., pp 44-66

[85] Transparency International Georgia, NGOs' address to the European Court, March 5, 2017 https://bit.ly/3oCwIay

[86] Transparency International Georgia, Rustavi 2 TV Journalists Resign En Masse, Citing Expected Changes to the Critical Editorial Policy, August 22, 2019, https://bit.ly/2VWplhJ

[87] Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, Second Interim Report of Media Coverage of the 2020 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia, 2020, (in Georgian) https://bit.ly/3qGgRJQ

[88] Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Media Environment in 2016-2020, October 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VYWVDU

[89] Transparency International Georgia, Justice System Against Opponents of the Government, March 9, 2020, https://bit.ly/3gucMUk

[90] Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Media Environment in 2016-2020, October 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VYWVDU

[91] Ibid.

[92] Transparency International Georgia, NGOs assessment of the 2020 parliamentary elections, November 4, 2020, https://bit.ly/37Qwzt8

[93] International Republican Institute,Technical Election Assessment Mission: Georgia 2020 Parliamentary Election Interim Report, November 16, 2020, https://bit.ly/3gBaX85 ; OSCE ODIHR, International Election Observation Mission, Georgia – Parliamentary Elections, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, 31 October 2020, https://bit.ly/2W2dH4Z