How it all started – 1994-2004
In 1994 being young enthusiasts, we have created the company Rustavi 2 from scratch, fully relying on our own limited resources. The shortage of finances was compensated by our technical and innovative skills, unlimited energy and enthusiasm. Despite of the pressure from the government we – with the help and great support from international community, including the US Embassy in Georgia – managed to create an independent and pro-Western TV company that rapidly became very popular in the country.
Till 2001 the founders and the owners of the company were : David Dvali, Jarji Akimidze and Erosi Kitsmarishvili. Each of us owned 33,3% of the shares of the company.
In 2001 the owner of 10% share of Rustavi 2 became Nikoloz Tabatadze. All three founders contributed equally to this value, and correspondingly, the shares of each founder were reduced to 30% respectively.
Being an independent pro-western media company, from the very beginning Rustavi 2 was under a strong pressure from the Georgian government.
In 1995 and 1996 the government managed to shut down our TV company twice. This was achieved by revoking the broadcast license, since the dominant political groups were requesting the control over the news policy.
As a result of this revocation Rustavi 2 was shut down for the periods of two and nine months respectively. In both instances, on the background of great support from public as well as from Western Diplomats and non-government organizations, we won the court cases and achieved the restoration of broadcast license.
On top of this, Rustavi 2 was under a constant pressure from the government on a daily basis. This pressure culminated by the National Security Service conducting an illegal raid on Rustavi 2, forcefully entering its premises without having any court authorization or other legal justification. This attack did not achieve its goal, and instead, it backfired: Due to the fact that it was broadcasted live, it became widely observed and triggered an enormous public protest. As a result, the government forces had to back off.
Despite the problems, in 1994-2004 period “Rustavi 2” reached big successes:
- First talk-show live with telephone calls – “Leader”
- First rebroadcasting of licensed football match
- First Euro League/ League of Champions
- First TV series duplicated in Georgian
- First fully duplicated TV streaming
- First telephone survey
- First live from the place of accident
- First satellite live from abroad
- First broadcaster on the satellite
- First journalistic investigative TV show
- First exit polls
- First licensed entertainment TV show – “Who wants 20,000”
- First news program “Courier” with two presenters
- First programming grid, which haven’t changed since 1997
- First New Year Eve concert live in the street
- First commercially profitable television, which founded form the profit internet provider company “Georgia Online”.
Starting 2004 the series of changes of the owners of the broadcasting TV company “Rustavi 2” were initiated. This series started by the “National Movement” government forcefully taking Rustavi 2 company away from its founders, i.e., us, with this take-over cruelly violating our rights of property, the free media and the free speech. In extorting Rustavi 2 from its founders, the “National Movement” government took a split approach. Their strategies with respect to us (Akimidze and Dvali) and with respect to Kitsmarishvili, were diversified. Some of the key facts about the approach they took for gaining control over Kitsmarishvili’s shares is described in his witness account and other linked materials . As a result, Erosi Kitsmarisvili’s path in the Rustavi 2 case split from ours in 2004 and we never overlapped. After holding several high governmental positions in “National Movement” government, he moved to the political opposition to this government and later died tragically in 2014.
Below, we shall review our story in Rustavi 2 case. The “National Movement” government took the power in Georgia as a result of so-called “Rose Revolution”. The first thing the new government made very clear to us was that they were not going to tolerate an independent media and we had to give up our TV company (i.e., the 60 percent of shares that we owned). This sounded paradoxical, as the very same government had declared to our Western Partners the loyalty to democratic values.
When we refused to voluntarily give up the company, the pressure intensified and finally became unbearable. The details of the case are described in numerous witness accounts and other linked materials. As an outcome, we, the founders and the owners of then-independent broadcasting company Rustavi 2, were forced by the government of Georgia to give up the company.
After the first extortion, during 8 years the company changed more than 15 owners. The changes were conducted by means of series of suspicious deals and transections. Of course, the real de facto owner of the company always was the top management of the “National Movement” party.
The purpose of these series of changes was two-fold. First, the clear purpose was to distance the company from its founders as much as possible, in order to make – in case of any attempt from our side – the restoration of our property rights as complicated as possible. Secondly, the “National Movement” government needed to make sure that each time the owner of the company was someone fully loyal to the party. The moment the loyalty of a given owner would become questionable, the company would change hands immediately.
One of such temporary owners of the company was Kibar Khalvashi, a businessman at that time affiliated with one of the high-ranking party members, and hence, considered to be trustable by the “National Movement”. He was the owner of the company during 2004-2006.
Since the last change – that took place in 2012 – the partners of Ltd broadcasting company Rustavi 2 are: Late Giorgi Gegeshidze (currently his spouse) 9%; Levan Karamanashvili 22%; Giorgi Karamanashvili 18%; and Ltd TV company “Saqartvelo” 51%.
In the same time, the owners of Ltd TV company “Saqartvelo” are: Levan Karamanashvili 49% and Giorgi Karamanashvili 51%.
From 2012 – present
In 2012, after the parliamentary elections the government was changed. “National Movement” was out-voted in the wake of a so-called “Prison Scandal””, in which a large amount of absolutely shocking and disturbing material, allegedly describing massive and systematic torture and rape of prisoners, was revealed by journalists and other sources. (Paradoxically, as immediate reaction the responsibility for “misconduct” was partially even accepted by the “National Movement” government, but no political statement of apology was ever made.)
One of the slogans of the new governing party, called “Georgian Dream” which came to power in 2012, was “Restoration of Justice”.
We, the founders and the former owners of Rustavi 2, immediately began the legal fight in order to restore our rights that were violated by the government in 2004. On November 30th, 2012 we filed an appeal to the Prosecutor’s office of Georgia to investigate and give a legal qualification to the actions of Georgian Government Officials against us in 2004.
Although an investigation was launched, evidences had been gathered, dozens of witnesses had been interviewed and the fact of crime has been clearly demonstrated, the investigation authority has not charged any person committing the crime until now. Moreover, almost five years later since the start of investigation, the prosecutor’s office has not come up with any conclusion of the investigation. Without such conclusion it is impossible to move the case into the Georgian court.
Meanwhile, Kibar Khalvashi appealed to the court. In recognition of pre-existing violation of our rights by the National Movement government, he offered as a possible settlement in case of his victory to restore 50% of share of the company and the management to us, Jarji Akimidze and David Dvali. This offer carried an important ethical weight, as it clearly demonstrated that violation of our rights in 2004 were widely recognized.
As the hearings of the Kibar Khalvashi case began in Georgian court system, it attracted a lot of attention from general public as well as from media, political circles, local and international non-governmental organizations.
In March of 2017 the Supreme Court granted the ownership of the broadcasting company Rustavi 2 to Khibar Khalvashi. This decision was immediately followed up by the appeal of the opposite side to the European Court in Strasbourg. The latter court suspended the implementation of the decision of Supreme Court of Georgia until the conclusion of the case in Strasbourg European Court, where currently the case is pending.