The Tbilisi City Court ruled on August 11 to fine Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of Georgian Dream coalition, with GEL 20.2 million (about USD 12.3 million) – a second multi-million fine imposed on billionaire opposition politician in two months.
In June USD 48 million financial penalty was imposed on him, which he initially was refusing to pay, which led to seizure of his banking assets in Georgia. In July he paid USD 48 million fine and said that he did so because he wanted to contribute to relief efforts for disaster-hit provinces.
Combined, these two multi-million fines (total of GEL 100.24 million, or about USD 61 million) make 1.4% of Georgia’s total budget revenues set for this year and 0.95% of Ivanishvili’s personal wealth, estimated to be USD 6.4 billion.
The State Audit Office (SAO) alleged that GEL 5.5 million, which the Georgian Dream leader withdrew from his bank account in cash this year, could have been used illegally for his and the Georgian Dream coalition’s political activities.
SAO said that such reasonable suspicion about illegal political spending of this cash was triggered by Ivanishvili's refusal to disclose spending details of withdrawn cash and by the fact that the withdrawal of the cash coincided with increase in number of illegal donations to the parties within Ivanishvili's coalition.
Ivanishvili’s lawyer said that this ruling by the court was “the most absurd” among those multiple court decisions taken in respect of the Georgian Dream leader in recent months. The lawyer said that the cash in question was not at all spent and kept at Ivanishvili’s home.
“The court considered this amount of money to be illegal [party] donation despite of the fact that Ivanishvili provided court with a proof confirmed by notary, as well as a video footage, which show that Ivanishvili’s wife Ekaterina Khvedelidze still keeps in the family this amount of [cash]. How could have Ivanishvili donated this money to a political party when he still keeps this money at home?” Ivanishvili’s lawyer, Alexander Baramidze, said.
Ivanishvili’s lawyer said that the ruling would be appealed to higher court, but also added that he had no expectation of winning the case, accusing the judiciary of being biased in favor of the authorities.
The court deemed GEL 4.04 million, instead of GEL 5.5 million as claimed by State Audit Office, to be suspicious cash withdrawal and imposed GEL 20,243,825 financial penalty on Ivanishvili. The amount of fine was calculated under the provision of the law which says that the financial penalty should be five times the sum in question.
In a similar case Ivanishvili's political ally and retired footballer Kakha Kaladze was fined with USD 10.3 million on August 10. Kaladze’s financial penalty is five times the amount of GEL 3.33 million, which he withdrew in cash from his Georgian bank accounts and which the State Audit Office alleged could have been used by Kaladze illegally for his and the Georgian Dream coalition’s political activities.
Representatives of the Tbilisi-based legal advocacy and watchdog group, Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, said that the decision of the State Audit Service and then the court's ruling into Kaladze’s was not based on sufficient evidence. They also said that the case showed an alarming trend wherein the State Audit Office was trying to place legal burden of proof on defendant, instead of itself trying to provide sufficient evidence to back its allegations.