A court in Tbilisi has ordered a freeze on the assets of the Rustavi 2 TV, which has been sued by one of its former owners, who seeks to claim back his shares in the leading Georgian television station.
Kibar Khalvashi, a businessman who was Rustavi 2 TV shareholder in 2004-2006, filed a lawsuit on August 4, and, as an interim measure, also asked the court to freeze broadcaster’s assets pending court’s final verdict over ownership dispute.
Rustavi 2 TV, which has condemned Khalvashi’s lawsuit as government-orchestrated attempt to take over the broadcaster critical of GD ruling coalition’s policies, said on August 7 that the court order on asset freeze bans its current owners to sell shares, as well as to sell or rent out broadcast equipment, vehicles and other property owned by the company.
“The court order effectively bars us from having any kind of relation with banks, we won’t be able to take loans and we won’t be able to rent out our equipment, which is also one of our sources of income,” Nika Gvaramia, Rustavi 2 TV’s general director, said on August 7.
“This is completely illegal decision,” he said, adding that the Rustavi 2 TV would appeal it to higher court.
Khalvashi was also asking the court to freeze Rustavi 2 TV’s bank accounts as an interim measure pending verdict, but it was dismissed, Gvaramia said.
Gvaramia suggested that request for freezing of bank accounts, which would have actually caused ceasing of TV station’s operation, was rejected out of fear of public backlash.
According to Rustavi 2 TV it received the court order, dated August 5, on Friday.
Gvaramia accused Tbilisi City Court judge Tamaz Urtmelidze, who took the decision, of acting on government’s orders.
“This court order shows that [Khalvashi’s lawsuit] is clearly politicized and has nothing to do with property rights,” Gvaramia said.
Since 2004 Rustavi 2 TV has changed hands multiple times and most of those changes in its ownership structure were intertwined with politics, creating complex web of controversial deals and multitude of former owners of which Khalvashi is not the only one who now wants to reclaim the broadcaster. As the channel was passing from one owner to another, every new shareholder was either an ally of then president Mikheil Saakashvili or an obscure offshore firm. Current owners of majority stakes in Rustavi 2 TV, Levan Karamanishvili and Giorgi Karamanishvili, are also believed to be Saakashvili’s associates.
Khalvashi claims that he was forced to give up his shares in the TV channel in late 2006. But other former owners, from whom Khalvashi obtained Rustavi 2 TV’s shares in 2004, have also alleged for number of times previously that they had to give up their shares as a result of pressure from the authorities.
Rustavi 2 TV had over GEL 21.5 million in advertising revenue in the first half of 2015, more than twice as much as its main competitor Imedi TV.