Public Defender’s Statement on Rustavi 2 case

Yesterday, on March 2, 2017, the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court of Georgia reviewed the Rustavi 2 case without oral hearing and unanimously adopted a final decision. As a result, Kibar Khalvashi was declared the owner of 60% of the shares of the TV company, while Ltd Panorama, owned by him, got 40% of shares. No reasoned decision exists so far. The court has a one-month term to prepare it.[1] It will be possible to make legal evaluation only after the decision is available. In the meantime, it can be said that the review of the case without oral hearing in the court of cassation had negative impact on the public confidence in the judicial process.

The Public Defender had been actively echoing the decisions made by the court of first instance and the court of appeal concerning the seizure of Rustavi 2 property, appointment of temporary management in the company and the delivery of the decision of the court of appeal, during which significant violations of the law were revealed.

All this creates a feeling that the enforcement of the court's decision may endanger the diverse media environment in the country, especially the operation of the critical media. Media freedom and diverse media environment, important basis of a democratic state, have been the main achievements of Georgia in recent years. However, the events developed in recent months, including at the Public Broadcaster, can put in danger the attainments that had been achieved through overcoming a lot of difficulties.

Discussions about the ownership of Rustavi 2 are not new. The Public Defender's annual report of the first half of 2008 (pages 85-86) provides Kibar Khalvashi's explanation, according to which, "he purchased the TV company [Rustavi 2] at the request of the President, like the capital shares of the Mze and Pirveli Stereo TV channels”. According to the same report, the scheme, through which Kibar Khalvashi became the owner of Rustavi 2 is also interesting. [...] Based on the statements of old owners, it can be concluded that the same racketeering scheme was used with regard to the TV company shares as in other cases where property rights were violated, in particular, when property was gifted to the state. The only difference between the cases was that in this case the company or its shares were gifted not to the state (this could not happen, since the Law on Broadcasting prohibit administrative agencies or officials from owning broadcasting license), but to private individuals, through which representatives of the Government controlled the frequencies granted to the broadcaster before 2004.”

However, the court has not discussed how Kibar Khalvashi became the owner of Rustavi 2 in 2004. This issue has not been legally assessed despite the fact that according to founders of Rustavi 2, Davit Dvali and Jarji Akimidze, they appealed to the
Prosecutor’s Office as early as in 2012, though the investigation has not yielded any results.

Given all this and the fact that the entire process relating to the ownership of Rustavi 2 has not been given due legal evaluation, and on the other hand, given that there is no sense of full restoration of justice and questions exist concerning the possibility of maintenance of the TV channel having critical approach towards the authorities, we might lose the diversity of the media, which would undoubtedly be a significant step backwards in terms of maintenance of high standards of freedom of expression and speech.

[1] Second part of Article 257 of the Civil Procedures Code of Georgia.

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