The statement of non-governmental organizations regarding developments related to TV 25 - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

The statement of non-governmental organizations regarding developments related to TV 25

04 April, 2014

On 24 February 2012, the relatives of the owners of TV 25 were granted state assets worth of GEL 4 million for a symbolic price through a direct acquisition. According to the Public Registry, the same day, the owners of the TV Company sold their shares. This seems suspicious and raises doubts whether some type of a criminal agreement took place between the shareholders, buyers of the assets and the officials who alienated the state assets for a symbolic price.

Yet in the first half of 2012, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association asked the Court to disclose the documents regarding alienation of the state assets to the relatives of the owners of TV 25. The first instance Court did not uphold the appeal of GYLA. The documents where disclosed based on the decision of the Appellate Court only after the 2012 Parliamentary elections.

In December 2012, the General Prosecutor of Georgia started an investigation regarding of the state assets. The investigation commenced on the basis of the crimes stipulated in Articles 332 (Abuse of Official Authority) and 194 (Legalisation of Illicit Income) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. At the same time, by a reference from the Prosecutor’s Office and a decision of the Court, the bank accounts of the shareholders of the “TV Channel 25” and the assets transferred to their relatives were sequestrated.

According to the owners of TV 25 George Surmanidze and Jemal Verdzadze, they were questioned within the investigatory process during the January of 2013. As George Surmanidze and Jemal Verdzadze explained, they were summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office again on 17 December 2013. This time, no investigatory procedures were undertaken and only informal meeting took place, which lasted from 10:00 pm to 05:00 am of the next morning. During this informal meeting, George Surmanidze and Jemal Verdzadze were placed under physiological pressure, which was conducted by around ten prosecutors, lead by a high-ranking official of Prosecutor’s Office. According to George Surmanidze and Jemal Verdzadze, the pressure included verbal insults towards them and threats towards their family members. As George Sermonize stated, the Prosecutors were in an aggressive manner demanding from them a statement that would have incriminated Ivane Merabishvili and David Chkhatarashvili. If the TV Channel owners refused such a statement, the Prosecutors threated them with an imprisonment.

The owners of TV 25 issued a statement in the Georgian media regarding the pressure from the Prosecutors. As Giorgi Surmanidze explained, after the dissemination of this information in media, he was summoned in the Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia to the Head of the investigatory division. The Head of the investigatory division offered Giorgi Surmanidze criminal immunity, if he would not disclose the above-mentioned facts about their visits to the Prosecutor’s Office.

We would like to state the following regarding the developments around TV 25: Initiation of the investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office on alienation of the state assets could have had a valid reason. Despite this, the Georgian legislation clearly defines the obligation for law enforcement agencies to conduct the investigation with full of observation of the legal requirements. Violation of this obligation by the law enforcement agencies, could, at certain cases, constitute a crime.  Therefore, investigation of a crime while, at the same time, committing another crime is unjustifiable. It is important, that the accusations made by the owners of the “TV Chanel 25” are properly investigated and that it is examined whether any type of pressure, compelling a statement or threats indeed took place against George Surmanidze and Jemal Verdzadze during the investigatory process.

Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA)

Transparency International Georgia (TI)

Article 42 of the Constitution

Coalition for Media Advocacy

GMedia, Media