Joint statement by NGOs on the release of alleged audio recording
On April 25, the YouTube channel "Cyber Kmara" revealed another audio recording of an alleged conversation between Bidzina Ivanishvili and Russian businessman Vladimir Evtushenkov. The latter is on the list of Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the United Kingdom and Australia in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent outbreak of war. Evtushenkov was the founder and major stakeholder of the Russian Sistema JSFC. Following the imposition of sanctions, in April he transferred 10% of his shares of the company to his son, and now owns 49.2 percent of the company. It is worth noting that the Sistema JSFC is one of the world's 2000 largest organizations, with over 20 businesses operating in over 25 countries. In Russia, the company is classified as a systemcreator (Систeмообразующее) enterprise. The United Kingdom's list of sanctioned individuals mentions Yevtushenko as a supporter and benefactor of the Russian government, evidenced by his ownership of the conglomerate company Sistema JSFC. Furthermore, this company is involved in the Russian energy, information, communications, and digital technology sectors.
According to the audio recording, Ivanishvili and sanctioned Russian businessman Evtushenkov discussed future business matters and agreed that Evtushenkov's representative should meet with Georgia's Prime Minister under Bidzina Ivanishvili's instructions. Furthermore, the Russian oligarch asked Ivanishvili to meet with his representative in person for him to convey to him his personal message.
The dissemination of the audio recording was followed by ambiguous assessments from the ruling party's and parliament's chairpersons. The parliament's chairman questioned the authenticity of the recording before an official, competent review of its authenticity and stated that the audio recording can be considered as “fraudulent with the bare ear and eye." On the other hand, the head of the ruling party stated that he had no information about the recording's authenticity; However, he noted that the dialogue's substance is unsurprising given that it simply includes "two business people discussing business relations with one another." For his part, Evtushenkov confirmed that his confidant, Ali Uzdenov, whose name can be heard on the audio record, had indeed met with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili. However, Davit Khidasheli, another alleged individual mentioned in the audio recording, issued a special statement in which he contradicted Evtushenkov's account of events. Mr. Khidasheli denied that Ali Uzdenov met with Gharibashvili and Ivanishvili, stating that the prime minister simply referred him to the business sector for further consultations. Vice Prime Minister Tea Tsulukiani, also, denied that the meeting between Uzdenov and the prime minister took place.
The audio recording's content is all the more concerning in light of the Georgian authorities' ambiguous and populist statements about the imposed sanctions aimed at halting Russia's military aggression. While other nations, including Georgia's main allies- the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, imposed unprecedented sanctions on oligarchs linked to Russia and the Kremlin, the Georgian government refused to join the action. Moreover, Prime Minister Gharibashvili defined sanctions to be ineffective and later reiterated his statement that the Ukrainian people and occupation of the Ukrainian land have become victims of this war. In these conditions, any information about a possible meeting with them, especially with the country's highest political figures and potential cooperation, is of great interest and concern to the Georgian public.
Furthermore, the content of the audio recording demonstrates once again that Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream, wields informal authority and influence over the leader of the Georgian government.
While the Western states make no distinction between the Kremlin and Russian oligarchs and see sanctions as the means to deter Russian aggression, we believe that interacting with sanctioned Russian entrepreneurs, business owners, and their representatives is highly detrimental to Georgia's national interests.
With this in mind, the Georgian Dream leaders' claims that the conversation between Bidzina Ivanishvili and Evtushenkov was a routine business negotiation are a deliberate attempt to mislead the public.
Thus, in light of the high public interest, we believe it is critical to:
- Make information public about any meetings and their contents (if relevant) between the Head of the Georgian Government and/or other government officials and the representatives of the Russian Federation and sanctioned oligarchs and their firms held after February 24. Furthermore, to offer persuasive explanations concerning the subject of the meeting between the Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili (founder of the Georgian Dream) and the representative of sanctioned oligarch Evtushenkov;
- Determine the audio recording's authenticity with the assistance of trustworthy international experts. It is in the best interest of the government to offer compelling answers on this subject to persuade the public that Georgia is not engaged in any ploy aimed at circumventing sanctions imposed on Russia;
- Urge the State Security Agency to initiate an investigation into the audio recordings' contents and respond accordingly. Furthermore, to keep the public informed on the investigation's findings.
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy
Transparency International - Georgia
Georgian Democracy Initiative
Social Justice Center
Atlantic Council of Georgia
Economic Policy Research Center
Open Society Foundation
Society and Banks
Media Development Foundation
Europe for Georgia
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association
Human Rights Center
Democracy Research Institute
Tolerance and Diversity Institute
Georgia’s Reform Association
Liberal Academy Tbilisi