Police raid independent newspaper

New York, July 20, 2004 – Financial police in the capital of Tbilisi raided the office of The Georgian Times after the independent weekly newspaper published a series of articles questioning how a prosecutor had acquired certain assets.

On July 14, financial police “confiscated a year’s worth of accounting documents without a proper search warrant,” the newspaper’s attorney, Iazon Beselia, told CPJ in a telephone interview today.

Police officers raided the newspaper, which publishes separate Georgian and English language editions, as the staff was preparing the next Georgian edition. Police said they were investigating financial irregularities at the newspaper, which has continued to publish since the raid, Beselia said.

The raid followed a series of articles by The Georgian Times (www.geotimes.ge) examining how Tbilisi’s chief prosecutor, Valery Grigalashvili, had acquired assets such as a house and Mercedes-Benz, according to journalists at the newspaper.

Nana Gagua, publisher of The Georgian Times, said she spoke with Grigalashvili when she returned his phone call a day after the April 22 edition had been published.

“He was angry about an article we just published and said he was going to collect ‘operational information’ on us,” Gagua said in a telephone interview with CPJ. “Then last week the financial police arrived in our office saying they had ‘operational information’ about financial crimes.”

Several attempts by CPJ to reach Grigalashvili for comment were unsuccessful.

While press freedom conditions have improved in Georgia following the November 2003 ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze, some analysts charge that officials in President Mikhail Saakashvili’s government occasionally use the government’s administrative authority to pressure opponents.

“It’s hard to find concrete evidence [that The Georgian Times raid was politically motivated] because these types of issues are dealt with in phone calls,” said David Paitchadze, a Tbilisi-based correspondent for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. “The newspaper may have some financial issues…but [the raid is] suspicious because the authorities enforce these regulations selectively.”