Statement regarding Rustavi-2 TV Station
According to the reports in the media today, a court has ruled to freeze the assets of the Sakartvelo TV station upon request from Kibar Khalvashi’s lawyer. The Sakartvelo TV station owns 51 percent of the Rustavi-2 TV station (Sakartvelo is owned by the Qaramanashvili brothers who also own 40 percent of Rustavi-2)
As Kibar Khalvashi’s lawyers have explained, their appeal to the court was prompted by the application submitted to the business registry regarding the sale of the Sakartvelo TV station’s shares. Under the application, Dimitri Chikovani was to buy Sakartvelo’s shares.
According to the business registry data, Dimitri Chikovani’s representative Shota Mindeli requested registration of information concerning the sale of shares under an expedited procedure at 17:53 on 29 September. A few hours later (at 23:54), the business registry suspended the process, citing the fact that Shota Mindeli’s power of attorney did not authorize him to buy a 100-percent share. According to Rustavi 2 management, problem was corrected at 15:45 on 30 September but the business registry has not made a decision so far
It is worth noting that, according to the business registry data, the Sakartvelo TV station’s assets have not been frozen. It is therefore not clear why the business registry has not made a final decision within the time frame established by the law.
According to Rustavi-2 General Director Nika Gvaramia, Rustavi-2 would have obtained $6 million in investments as a result of the sale of shares by the partners and the request to freeze Sakartvelo’s assets aimed to obstruct this very process.
We do not yet know the grounds for the court ruling and therefore we cannot say whether it is based on sound legal reasoning. Still, there are a number of questions as to whether the decision was appropriate, particularly if we consider the fact that Rustavi-2’s disputed shares could not be sold because of an earlier freezing of assets, while the ownership change in Sakartvelo which owns Rustavi-2’s shares does not imply a change of Rustavi-2’s shareholders and would therefore not jeopardize the subject of the ongoing dispute - Rustavi-2’s shares.
Also, according to the representatives of the Sakartvelo TV station, contrary to what Kibar Khalvashi’s lawyers have said, Sakartvelo’s sale would not impose any financial obligations on Rustavi-2 and would instead result in a sizeable investment in the company. The purchase agreement uploaded to the business registry database confirms this. Consequently, it is not clear what would prompt the plaintiff to prevent investment in the company to which it has an ownership claim other than a desire to create financial obstacles to its ongoing operations.
A dispute can arise between a company’s shareholders and this particular case would not have prompted acute reaction by the public, if it were not for multiple questions over procedural violations as well as numerous statements by political officials who openly stated their position regarding the change of owners of Rustavi-2’s shares. For this reason, we believe that the court dispute over the ownership of Rustavi-2 has political implications. We also believe that the events of the last few days have jeopardized the operation of Rustavi-2 as well as the sustainability of free media in Georgia.
We call on all relevant bodies to adopt the decisions concerning the TV station as transparently as possible and to ensure full compliance with the law in order not to obstruct the operation of independent media and not to endanger its survival.