Statement on the Reports Concerning the Involvement of Judges Adjudicating Rustavi 2 TV Case in Corrupt Deals and Alleged Pressure on Them
Some reports have emerged recently on the involvement of judges adjudicating the Rustavi 2 TV case in corrupt deals and alleged pressure on them. Both local and international organizations have repeatedly spoken about the presence of the government's possible political interests in the case. We believe that protection of Rustavi 2's editorial independence is important for the existence of pluralistic media environment in the country and providing the public with comprehensive information on current developments. The case has been transferred to the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court for adjudication and the parties are waiting for the final ruling on the case. It means that the attention towards expected results has further increased. In this situation, it is important for both government agencies and media outlets to realize the responsibility for providing the public with impartial and comprehensive information concerning the statements about alleged pressure on the judges adjudicating the case and their involvement in corrupt deals.
Several days ago, representatives of media outlets and some opposition parties voiced affirmative allegations concerning the involvement of one of the judges adjudicating the Rustavi 2 TV case in corrupt deals. According to these allegations, the family of Nata Nazgaidze, judge of the Tbilisi Court of Appeals, received about GEL 1 million from the Tbilisi City Hall in exchange for issuing a favorable ruling over the Rustavi 2 TV case.
Shortly after the reports emerged, Zviad Chokheil applied to us saying that he is a real beneficiary of monetary reimbursement granted by the Tbilisi City Hall. On the basis of analyzing the documents provided by Zviad Chokheli (contracts between Zviad Chokheli's family and Zviad Nazgaidze, as well as with the bank; memorandums signed with investors; documents describing the condition of land plot before and after the natural calamities), public registry data, as well as decrees of the Tbilisi municipal government and Sakrebulo, we suppose that the provided documents do not give an objective observer sufficient reason to conclude affirmatively that Nata Nazgaidze's family received a bribe worth GEL 1 million as a compensation for the land plot damaged during the natural calamities.
We suppose that in this situation, it is important that on the one hand, media and society are free to express critical opinions about the ongoing discussion, and on the other, the society is provided with comprehensive and impartial information, especially as the voiced allegations concerning taking a bribe by a judge are extremely grave, and judges, due to ethical standards, are limited to respond to them.
We would like to emphasize that not only the media has the right to disseminate information on the details of high-profile cases, but the public also has the right to receive comprehensive information about such cases. Furthermore, it should be noted that individual judges can be subject to criticism, but we should take into account the legitimate interest, which may be undermined through voicing grave and unjustified accusations against the court if the public does not receive comprehensive information from relevant bodies about factual circumstances of the case.
We also want to comment on the refusal of some representatives of the Tbilisi City Hall to appear in the Sakrebulo on February 21, 2017 despite demands from opposition members of the Tbilisi City Council. We suppose that the decision of senior officials from the Tbilisi City Hall to avoid questions from the Sakrebulo members will add more question marks to the issue. Therefore, we call on the representatives of the Tbilisi City Hall to actively cooperate with the members of Sakrebulo and respond to all the doubts or accusations under the rule set by law.
Reports also emerged recently about the facts of alleged pressure on judges Besarion Alavidze and Paata Katamadze, who are adjudicating the Rustavi 2 case in the Supreme Court. Although the prosecutor's office received the statement concerning these facts from the Supreme Court on January 14, 2017, this information was not available to the public for two weeks. Even the members of the High Council of Justice, who are authorized to ensure the independence of judges, learnt about the facts of alleged pressure on the judges from news programs. Noteworthy that it is the first case, when the Supreme Court judges announced about attempts of exerting pressure on them that was followed by launching an investigation. We suppose that there is a high public interest towards duly and impartial investigation and stemming from the significance of the case, the prosecutor's office should disclose the case papers and evidence gradually. In addition, the chairperson of the Supreme Court as well as the High Council of Justice have to be more informed and efficient concerning the facts of alleged pressure on judges and to take tangible steps for ensuring their independence.
Thus, we call on:
We are still closely watching the developments around the Rustavi 2 TV case and express hope that all question marks existing since the day of initiating the case largely due to its political context will be removed.