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Georgian authorities vs. opposition: The showdown live05.06.2012 | 18:48
Another scandal around the attempts of certain structures close the authorities to take the media market under control has outlined in Georgia. Showdown between the owners are being broadcasted by the two television companies of the "second division" - "I Stereo" and "Stereo +". TV-channels' Director David Zimfimiani was discharged from job, and his staff has no access into the building. Our correspondent Nino Svanidze told about the details of this conflict.
The conflict broke out on May 18. That day, the owner of 65% of the TV channel "I Stereo" Vasil Kobaidze appointed himself a director bypassing the meeting of partners. The cause of the conflict consists of the fact that the TV channel has started cooperation with the "Channel 9", owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili. The oligarch closed this channel in 2005, but recently it has resumed broadcasting.
The problem lies on the surface. The real owner of "I Stereo" and "Stereo +" is David Bezhuashvili, one of the most influential people in Georgia, as well as President Saakashvili's close ally.
But David Zimfimiani's also very influential person. He owns 22% shares of the "I Stereo" and 68% of the "Stereo +". But Zimfimiani has gone too far in the freedom of speech, when he started cooperating with the "Channel 9". Cooperation documentary was signed with the "Stereo +", mostly owned by David Zimfimiani.
In an interview to GTimes Zimfimiani told that Vasil Kobaidze was just zits-chairman, while Bezhuashvili is the most influential man in Georgia. "David Bezhuashvili told I would have better go to "my America" and leave everything here. Of course, I haven't done it. I'm not a businessman they can frighten waving his finger", Zimfimiani said.
Kakha Bekauri, CEO, "Channel 9", commented the situation. "This is another obstacle for the "Channel 9", and for free media as a whole. When they are creating a problem for those TV companies that help us to broadcast, as well as in the technical activities, it is understandable why they are putting pressure", Bekauri said.
According to the existing license, the "I Stereo" has a right to broadcast all kinds of programs, except for the news; and the "Stereo +" can broadcast the news. Zimfimiani says that the fact that his channel can broadcast political information poses threat to the authorities. The Court has imposed a ban on the administration of Zimfimiani's shares in TV companies. It has also imposed ban on all of its broadcasting frequencies. But Vasil Kobaidze has filed a lawsuit against David Zimfimiani: the partner demands compensation of the damage caused to TV company.
Here's how Kavlashvili George, Vasil Kobaidze's lawyer, interprets the case: "David Zimfimiani conducted business in parallel and to the detriment to the "I Stereo", preferring to develop the "Stereo +". As a result, the "I Stereo" has got problems in terms of profitability. And we have financial claims to it". David Zimfimiani has filed a counterclaim on the ban on company's broadcasting, since he's not the only owner of the "Stereo +", and all the co-owners of the company experience losses.
Soso Baratashvili, David Zimfimiani's lawyer: "This is a classic scheme when they rake away the owners' shares. First, a ban appears, and then the tax service appears, then dire financial condition of the owner, the transition of the case to the criminal sphere and subsequent development of such negative processes. The following days will show what illegal steps the government is ready to take".
Another interesting thing is - who stands behind the new CEO Vasil Kobaidze. In 2011, he founded energy company LLC "Energomontazh 2011". Since then he has appeared in "I Stereo". Prior to that, Kobaidze's share belonged to the company "Industrial Group Holding Company of Georgia" for several years. Its founder is Robert Bezhuashvili. He is the father of David Bezhuashvili, a Member of Parliament, and Gela Bezhuashvili, the head of foreign intelligence services; and Vasil Kobaidze is their son-in-law.
Kibar Khalvashi, once one of the closest to President Saakashvili person, now disgraced businessman: "In November 2006, when Irakli Okruashvili left the post of economy minister, the president called me and told me to drop in to Giorgi Arveladze. Arveladze told me, "We have decided that you and some person will be the owners of TV companies "Mze", "Rustavi-2" and "I Stereo". This decision was made by the president", Khalvashi said.
Later, Bezhuashvili reissued the TV companies "Mze" and "Rustavi 2" on the name of president's friend, and his share of the "I Stereo" - on the name of his son-in-law.
Today it is not known, whence the channel broadcasts. They're broadcasting old records. In protest, members of the "I Stereo" have quitted their jobs.