The ongoing face-off between the Georgian government and billionaire opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili took a fresh twist on June 14 when American investor Alexander Ronzhes, a partner in a cable TV provider targeted by a campaign-finance investigation into Ivanishvili's parliamentary election campaign, was detained at the Tbilisi airport while trying to leave the country.
Ronzhes, who owns 17.2 percent of the provider, Global TV, is currently being held for questioning related to a money-laundering investigation, according to a statement from the Ministry of Finance cited by the Georgian news agency Interpressnews. No information has been released about the target of the investigation.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance confirmed that Ronzhes is being questioned related to allegations that he tried to take “a considerable” amount of money out of the country without declaring it.
Citing the ministry statement, Interpressnews reported that Ronzhes had sold a piece of property on June 8 to a Tbilisi-based company, Lizingi 21, for 3.1 million lari (about $1.89 million).
Archil Kbilashvili, a lawyer and member of Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, told EurasiaNet.org that Ronzhes has not been officially charged with any crimes.
State auditors claim that Global TV distributed satellite antennas to 25,000 households free of charge, courtesy of Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose brother, Alexander, owns 66.8 percent of the company.
On June 11, a Tbilisi court fined the billionaire 126 million laris (about $77.65 million) for allegedly violating campaign-finance regulations.
Ivanishvili has refused to pay the fine; Ronzhes arrived in Georgia earlier this month in relation to the case.
In comments to reporters, Ivanishvili charged that the American's detention "shows the real face" of the Georgian government, and urged Tbilisi to issue an apology.