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Monday, August 29, 2005

 

Georgian TV founder charged with blackmail

From The Messenger:

The head and co-founder of the independent TV channel 202 was arrested on Saturday under accusations he extorted money from a member of parliament in order to quash a compromising report.

Shalva Ramishvili helped create the off-beat private channel and was best known for his program 'Debates on 202.' He was arrested on Abashidze Street in Vake as he came out from the building where MP Koba Bekauri had just handed him USD 30,000 in cash allegedly to halt an investigation into why the MP's wealth had dramatically increased over the past year.

The MP had been wired with a hidden camera that recorded the transaction. Ramishvili was immediately detained in a car with a companion Davit Kokhreidze. Police officials stated they recovered the money in the car.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement after the arrest saying MP Bekauri approached the ministry with the claim that Ramishvili had demanded USD 100,000 in order not to air the compromising program. The ministry's security department then arranged for the sting operation and the hidden camera.

While being moved from the building to a police vehicle, Ramishvili, whose birthday was the same day, appeared defiant, at times smiling and holding up a victory sign with his fingers. "It's a provocation," he said as police put him in a car.

Co-founder of 202, MP Vazha Kiladze, appeared at the scene of the arrest almost immediately and stated that he knew nothing about the deal but confirmed that journalists were preparing material critical of Bekauri.

The station 202 is the only Georgian channel broadcasting regular political debates. It does not have a regular news program but broadcasts investigative stories produced by the studio 'Reporter.' Earlier this year, it broadcast one such report that claimed to have evidence that Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania was murdered and not as officials claimed accidentally poisoned by a gas heater.

On Saturday journalists from the studio responded to the arrests saying that Ramishvili did not have the power to block the program. They stated Reporter had an agreement to air its programs on TV 202, and that Ramishvili had no editorial control.

On Sunday, officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs failed in an attempt to conduct a supposed 'technical inspection' of the offices of Ramishvili's station 202.

Staff demanded that the investigators present a warrant or personal identifications. The officers refused and left the scene without further comment.

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