Owners Willing to Hand Controlling Stakes to Rustavi 2 Staff

On March 25, Nika Gvaramia, Director General of Rustavi2 announced that following the meeting with the staff, they decided to accept an offer of the current owners, brothers Giorgi and Levan Karamanishvili, to hand over controlling share of the company to its employees. “Rustavi2 is mine Ltd” will be set up to manage the controlling stakes.

According to the Rustavi 2 broadcast, employees of all departments, but mostly journalists will be the founders of the new ownership company. At least some of the journalists have protested broadcasting of an internal discussion regarding the list of “Rustavi 2 is mine Ltd” shareholders.

Brothers Karamanashvili are the majority shareholders of “TV Sakartvelo Ltd” which holds the majority stake in Rustavi 2 since 2011. Karamanashvilis’ ownership is challenged by a previous co-owner (2005-2006) Kibar Khalvashi, whose claim was upheld by the Supreme Court, but suspended by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on March 2, with suspension further extended on March 7.

By this decision, ECHR appeared to endorse the claim of the Rustavi 2 management, that Khalvashi acts on behest of the current government, aiming to silence the opposition TV channel. Karamanashvili brothers, on their part, are known to be close associates of the former President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Offer and counter offer
The decision of March 25 was preceded by the offer of 40% stake by Karamanashvilis on March 23, which was rejected by Director General Gvaramia on behalf of the staff. He made a “counter offer” to give staff the controlling stake in the company.

“Let them give over to the employees the ownership of the TV Sakartvelo,” Gvaramia said. “By transferring [shares] to the Rustavi2 staff, for the first time in the history not only of our company, but in the Georgian media, employers will become full owners of the broadcaster and they will choose and authorize persons, who will be accountable to the company’s staff,” Gvaramia said at his briefing on March 23. “We believe that by agreeing to this offer, Karamanishivli brothers will use the historic opportunity and inscribe their names in the history of the Georgian media and its freedom of expression,” Gvaramia added.

Later, on March 25, Levan Karamanishvili released a statement on his Facebook page accepting Gvaramia’s counter offer.

“We confirm that we are ready to hand over 51 percent of the TV Sakartvelo’s shares, which in turn is the owner of 51% of shares of Rustavi2 to the staff. This means that the station`s management will pass over completely into their hands,” Karamanishvili said. He proposed to stop the public discussion over the topic and start the legal consultations on the matter.

Much still unclear

Speculations swirl regarding the behind-the-scenes discussions that followed the ECHR`s suspension of the Supreme Court decision on March 7, which was a visible blow to the government’s democratic credentials.

The legal implications of the apparent deal to transfer ownership, as well as their potential impact on ECHR’s suspension order remain unclear.

Civil.ge will keep you posted on this developing story.