Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the opposition coalition Georgian Dream (GD), had some of his assets impounded by the government on Tuesday for his refusal to pay a multi-million dollar (about $45 million) fine he was sentenced to for violation of party funding rules.
Ivanishvili has repeatedly stated that the government is acting beyond legal means and is targeting him as part of their campaign strategy leading up to the parliamentary elections to be held this autumn.
This week the National Enforcement Bureau of Georgia (NEB) seized Ivanishvili’s shares in Cartu Bank and Progress Bank. Ivanishvili claims that he no longer owned shares in Cartu Bank, as he had transferred the assets to his eldest son, Uta, when he decided to enter politics.
The NEB stated that the Georgian National Bank had not been notified of a change in ownership for Cartu Bank and therefore Bidzina Ivanishvili remained the beneficial owner. This claim has been refuted by one of Ivanishivili’s lawyers, Shalva Tadumadze. He affirmed that, “This is not a mistake, but a political decision. They made it on purpose, to make sure that Ivanishvili doesn’t have appropriate property to pay the 75 million lari fine. They decided to take revenge by rules which are not defined by law.”
According to Georgian Dream spokeswoman, Tina Khidasheli, the value of the property that has been seized by the NED far exceeds the fine with which Ivanishvili has been sentenced.
Furthermore, this past Thursday has also seen a major fine imposed upon the opposition coalition as a whole. Georgian Dream has been sentenced to 2 383 097 lari, or nearly USD 1.5 million by Tbilisi City Court based on a report prepared by the Chamber of Control (CoC) alleging illegal campaign donations.
The CoC report claims that a company called Management Service Ltd. spent 476, 614 lari on the rent and refurbishment of office space which it then made available to Georgian Dream coalition members for free across the country.
The coalition has five days to re-pay the fine or risk having their assets frozen and potentially confiscated by the authorities. Alexander Baramidze, a lawyer for the opposition, has stated that this move is illegal and that Georgian Dream will be filing an appeal of the decision.
Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats Party, a member of the opposition coalition, noted that if the authorities were to seize the assets of the coalition members it would result in the disqualification of the opposition from the elections. However, he told Maestro TV that he does not see this scenario playing out because there is enough pressure from the international community to ensure competitive elections in Georgia.
Khidasheli stated that “We [Georgian Dream] will continue our campaign just like we did before.” She continued that Georgian Dream is prepare for a legal battle with the government.
This last comment was likely in reference to a speech made by incumbent President Saakashvili in his meeting with governors and officials from across the country in Tbilisi Monday evening.
In the speech he made it clear that Georgia would follow a policy of zero tolerance when it came to the elections in October, stating that “the law is above everyone and everything regardless of social status, wealth or political affiliations, regardless of a person’s name or a person’s past.”
He went on to say, in direct reference to Georgian Dream, that “in recent months the representatives of certain political forces thought it was possible to carry out impudent aggression, attack against the principles of legality and fairness of elections. […] They have already experienced it and everyone else should know that such attempts will not work; each and every attempt will be eradicated with all the existing laws. No one will be able to bribe the electoral process or to buy Georgian democracy.”
In a final blow to the opposition this week, Ivanishvili’s appeal of the revocation of his Georgian citizenship by President Saakashvili last fall was rejected by the Appeals Court in Tbilisi on Friday. The opposition leader’s lawyers accuse the government of trying to suspend the process until after the fall elections. Ivanishvili’s defence team took the issue to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and confirmed that they will also bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights as well as the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Ivanishvili has stated that he will not run in the autumn elections without Georgian citizenship. The amendments to the Georgian Election Code, reported previously in CEW, which would allow him (and any other person born in Georgia, with EU citizenship and having made Georgia their country of residence for the past five years) to run for office, passed the third and final reading on Thursday. Amendments also include lowering of the minimum age for running for Member of Parliament from 25 to 21, including deregistered persons on the voters’ list, establishing maximum donations made by an individual to political parties and the criteria for international electoral observers to be accredited by Georgia.
Report prepared for CEW by Karina Gould with reporting from Democracy and Freedom Watch as well as civil.ge.