Statement regarding information about participation of a judge reviewing the case of Rustavi 2 in corrupt deals and alleged pressure on two judges of the Supreme Court
Media outlets have recently disseminated information about participation of a judge reviewing the case of Rustavi 2 in corrupt deals and about alleged pressure on two judges of the Supreme Court who are also involved in examining the case. Both local and international organizations have noted on many occasions that the authorities might be politically interested in the outcome of the said case. We believe that protection of the editorial independence of Rustavi 2 is important for the existence of a pluralist media environment in the country and for providing the public with comprehensive information about ongoing developments. As of today, the case has been transferred for examination to the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court and the parties are waiting for the final decision, which means that the public is now paying even more attention to the expected consequences. In this situation, it is important that both public agencies and media outlets realize their responsibility for ensuring that the public is provided with objective and comprehensive information about the statements released with regard to the alleged pressure on judges reviewing the case and about their participation in corrupt deals.
1. Statements regarding participation of a judge reviewing the case of Rustavi 2 in corrupt deals
Several days ago, media outlets and representatives of some opposition parties voiced accusations in an assertive form regarding the participation of one of the judges reviewing the case of the Rustavi TV station in corrupt deals. According to the accusations, the family of Nata Nazghaidze, a judge of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals, had received up to GEL 1 million from the Tbilisi City Hall in return for rendering a favorable judgment in the case of Rustavi 2.
After the dissemination of the aforementioned information, we were approached by Zviad Chokheli, who stated that he was the real beneficiary of the compensation issued by the City Hall. Having studied the documentation provided by Mr. Chokheli (contracts concluded between the family of Zviad Chokheli and Nata Nazghaidze, as well as those concluded with a bank; memoranda concluded with investors; documents depicting the condition of the land parcel before and after the natural disaster), as well as the public registry data and decrees of the municipal government and City Council of Tbilisi, we believe that the presented documentation doesn’t allow an objective observer to conclude assertively that the family of Nata Nazghaidze received GEL 1 million as a bribe in compensation for the land parcel damaged as a result of the natural disaster. 1
We believe that in the existing situation it is important to ensure that the media and members of the public will express their critical opinion about the ongoing court hearings freely and without any restriction, on the one hand, and that the public will be provided with comprehensive and objective information, on the other, especially when the accusations concerns a grave offence, such as bribe-taking by a judge, and when judges are restricted by the norms of judicial ethics from making statements in response to the accusations.
We would like to emphasize that not only the media has the right to disseminate information about the details of a high-profile case, but the public is also entitled to receive comprehensive information about such cases. It should be noted that concrete judges may be subjected to personal criticism, though we should also take into consideration the legitimate interest that might be infringed on by grave and unsubstantiated accusations, unless the relevant agencies provide the public with full information about the factual circumstances of the case.
We would also like to respond to the failure of representatives of the Tbilisi City Hall to appear before the City Council on February 21, 2017, despite the demands of the united opposition in the City Council. We believe that the decision of the City Hall’s senior officials to avoid answering the questions of members of the City Council raises additional questions among the public. Due to all the aforementioned, we call upon the representatives of the Tbilisi City Hall to cooperate with members of the City Council and to answer all doubts or accusations in the manner established by law.
2. An instance of possible gross interference with the activity of judges of the Supreme Court
The recent period also saw the dissemination of information about an instance of possible pressure on Besarion Alavidze and Paata Katamadze, the judges of the Supreme Court reviewing the case of Rustavi 2. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court had applied to the Prosecutor’s Office with regard to this incident on January 14, 2017, this information didn’t become available for the public for two weeks. Even members the High Council of Justice who are obliged by law to ensure judicial independence learned about the alleged pressure on the judges from the media. It is noteworthy that this is the first case in the recent history when judges of the Supreme Court have declared about attempts to put pressure on them and when an investigation has been launched into such an incident. We believe that the public is highly interested in ensuring that the investigation will be conducted in a timely and unbiased manner and that, due to the importance of the case, the Prosecutor’s Office should publicize the information and evidence related to this case in stages. In addition, both the Chairman of the Supreme Court and the High Council of Justice are obliged to be more informed and effective with regard to the alleged pressure on judges and to take effective steps to ensure their independence.
Due to this, we call upon:
- The High Council of Justice of Georgia, the Chairman of the Supreme Court of Georgia, and speaker-judges of courts – to inform the public comprehensively with regard to the recent accusations against the judge of the Court of Appeals, as well as about the instance of possible pressure on the judges of the Supreme Court, and to take steps for ensuring judicial independence in a timely manner;
- The Prosecutor’s Office – to ensure timely, objective, and impartial investigation into the instance of possible pressure on judges of the Supreme Court and, due to the high public interest in the case, to publicize the information and evidence related to this case in stages;
- The Tbilisi City Hall and City Council – to fully substantiate the lawfulness and necessity of the decrees by releasing a relevant official statement and to inform the public in response to the accusations that have been voiced.
We continue to observe the developments related to the examination of the case of Rustavi 2 and express hope that the question marks that have existed due to the political context of the case since the launching of the case will be eliminated at the next court hearing.
A note by Transparency International Georgia: 1
Transparency International Georgia would like to further clarify reasons for reaching such conclusion:
It appears that, in fact, Mr. Nazgaidze only received $80,000 from up to GEL 1 million paid by the Municipality. Civil agreements dated since 2012 indicate that the de facto owner of the land was Zviad Chokheli, while Zviad Nazgaidze remained a registered owner until he was payed $80,000 which Chokheli owed to him. It was Mr. Chokheli who had concluded memoranda with potential investors interested in purchasing the land few days before the flooding and he was the one who appealed to the officials several times for damage caused by the flooding. The distribution of the compensation received by Mr. Nazgaidze shows that approximately ¼ of the money went to the bank to cover the loans of Mr. Chokheli and the land received by Mr. Nazgaidze in compensation was also transferred to Mr. Chokheli, leaving approximately $80,000 to Mr. Nazgaidze.
The damage caused by the flooding provided grounds for confiscation of the land by the Municipality. The documentation shows that since the flooding River Vere runs through the land and the property is in Natural Disaster Zone, which was defined as a territory posing danger to human life and health because of the possibility of recurring flooding. The laws requires a prior, full and fair compensation for confiscating such land. In this case, it was considered fair to pay Mr. Nazgaidze the market value of the land before the flooding. Notably, it has been an established standard for defining the amount of compensation for those in Natural Disaster Zone.
Mr. Nazgaidze was not the first person whose property was confiscated under the same law. Approximately, one year before Nazgaidze case, Mr. Tamaz Elizbarashvili was paid GEL 1,476, 000 in return for confiscating the property registered under the name of his legal entity.
Mr. Nazgaidze was a registered owner by the time of confiscation. Although the Bank of Georgia was a registered owner of the land by the time of flooding, the Law on Confiscation of Property for Public Need and Urgent Necessity, requires compensation to be paid to the owner of the property by the time of confiscation as it was Mr. Nazgaidze. Why the bank sold the property back to Mr. Nazgaidze is a matter of private negotiations between the parties. However, the previous negotiations indicate that it had been the agreement between the parties that after the loans of Mr. Chokheli was paid the bank would sold the property back to its previous owner.
Transparency International Georgia
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)
Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF)
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
Human Rights Center (HRC)
Partnership for Human Rights (PHR)
Article 42 of the Constitution
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Civil Development Agency