09.04.2016 Author: Henry Kamens

Pornhub with Notable Female Politicians Goes Viral in Georgia

577887584344The latest political scandal to hit Georgia tells us a lot about life in developing countries allied with the US. A lot of senior politicians are implicated in it. But the question being asked is not, “Who did what to whom?” but “Which external actor has created this scandal and to serve what purpose?”

A video purporting to show Maia Panjikidze, 55, a member of the Free Democrats and ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs, having intercourse with a young man aged 25-30 was released on March 11th. Indications are that the video was made in Germany while she was the Georgian ambassador there, and that the man was a friend of her son.

Panjikidze has two sons and is married. She is the daughter of famous Georgian writer Guram Panjikidze and the sister-in-law of Free Democrats leader Irakli Alasania.

A few days later a video featuring another female political figure, Eka Beselia, was posted. Unlike the first the subject’s face was blotted out, leading some to maintain that the video was fabricated, but on the same evening she confessed on Facebook that it was indeed her in the video.

Beselia is head of the parliamentary committee for human rights. She has worked as a lawyer for many years and was a political ally of former Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili, defending him when he sought political asylum in France. Okruashvili was also very close to Free Democrats leader Irakli Alasania, both when he was Minister of Defence and while he was an ambassador himself.

As Oscar Wilde might have said, one such tape featuring a female politician with the same connections might be considered a misfortune, two looks like carelessness. Equally careless is the fact that the subjects are theoretically on opposite sides of the political divide: Panjikidze left the ruling Georgian Dream coalition to go into opposition, but Beselia remains part of it.

So this makes it unlikely that these videos are the product of domestic political infighting. The obvious culprit would be the previously ruling United National Movement, which has shown its love for the country by using every means possible to try and disrupt it, with the help of the criminal forces it utilised whilst in power. Nothing is beyond the UNM, as its more recent attempts to foment a coup clearly demonstrate.

But Iralki Alasania has commented that “Those who play dirty games never win elections” in an apparent reference to the Georgian Dream. Certainly, the videos are the product of inside knowledge of the lives of the women concerned which is likely to be found in the present political circles rather than discredited previous ones. But external security services also know such things, and have the means to make tapes unmolested – and here is where most Georgians believe the problem actually lies.

The power of what is not said

No Georgian media outlet has covered this story, not simply for legal or moral reasons but out of political expediency. Interpressnews.ge did run a story about the Panjikidze video, but it resulted in its editor losing her job. Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani wrote on her Facebook page that she would no longer have any dealings with this media outlet, as did Minister of Defence Tina Khidasheli, and Interpressnews.ge formally apologised.

Inga Grigolia, the famous Georgian TV anchor and ex-MP whose word is generally law in these matters, merely stated that “A woman who was a minister had her privacy rights violated,” maintaining that she was not going to comment further. She asked the rest of the media to do the same, saying that she intended to show solidarity with the victims.

However according to various sources these two tapes are not the only ones in existence. It is believed that both Tina Khidasheli and Grigolia herself feature in other tapes which are waiting to be released, and that other prominent women have also been targeted by the mysterious taper.

Beselia said in her statement that whoever had posted these tapes had not only violated her rights as a politician but as an ordinary woman, daughter and mother. But she then added that she would settle the score for all those who had had their rights violated, implying she also knows of the existence of more tapes. How they were brought to her attention, and why, tells us a lot about how small countries have to live if they want powerful friends.

All roads lead the same old way

This story began on December 26, 2015, when Gela Gurtskhaia brought these tapes to journalist Eliso Kiladze, a United National Movement supporter and head of the Kronika newspaper. She claims she refused to accept these tapes or take up the story. She also denies that she was asked to distribute the tapes to Georgian media sites. She has not yet confirmed how many tapes were offered however.

Police have arrested five people in connection with these tapes. One is a woman, and another is a former government official, Zurab Jamalashvili. He would be an obvious suspect in any such case, as he is the father of a famous Georgian hacker, Vaso Jamalashvili.

But here is where it gets interesting. Vaso Jamalashvili’s lawyer is Irakli Pkhakava, who is also the lawyer of the notorious crime boss Megis Kardava. Kardava is known to work closely with Turkish intelligence and is wanted by Georgia for numerous human rights violations, including torture and murder.

Two years ago Kardava was sentenced to nine years in prison, in absentia, by a Georgian court. Yet Jamalashvili wants the same lawyer, despite the fact it drags his own name through the mud. Could there be a reason for this?

This is not the first example of the private lives of Georgian politicians being captured on tape. A number of such tapes were made by the security services during the Saakashvili presidency, and used against their victims. These included the now deceased tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who was recorded in London on May 8, 2011, as well as opposition politicians based in Georgia itself.

The present government ordered all such tapes destroyed, and outlawed the practice. But at the same time it has notoriously failed to purge the government services of those responsible for making them, who often make no secret of their continuing allegiance to Saakashvili’s UNM and desire to destroy the country from within.

Why are these people still part of the state machinery? Because the state does not have the resources to take on their actual sponsors. The UNM holdovers in the system are not public servants but limbs of the Kardava criminal enterprise. This in turn was used by Saakashvili to control West Georgia, the place where rebellions against governments traditionally start.

The Saakashvili government was praised to the skies by the US and its Western allies, who knew perfectly well its true nature as a criminal mafia which tortured, murdered, abused and robbed the population. In return for this support, Saakashvili allowed Western powers to turn Georgia into the place they could do all the dirty things they are not allowed to do at home, like developing bioweapons, large-scale money laundering and smuggling gemstones in the stomachs of sheep.

Are we to believe Kardava is not also being tacitly supported by the West? Convicted

criminal or not, he still runs West Georgia. Furthermore he has a history of direct involvement in illegal surveillance, which he has made no effort to hide.

When the present government took power in 2012 Kardava distributed a video in which he warned people about the existence of secret tapes which appear, from the description, to be the very ones now released. He threatened that he would release these if Bacho Akhalaia, another former Defense Minister who is also an arms and drug dealer, was not released from prison. Akhalaia’s lawyer, Malkhaz Velijanashvili, stated that Kardava had taken these videos from Georgia when he went on the run, meaning he must have had immediate access to them.

When threats don’t work

Everyone has a theory about who has released these tapes now. It has been claimed that the UNM is trying to disrupt the government by doing this, but that is not credible because everyone objected to the UNM making such tapes when in power. Using these tapes in such a way is likely to gain sympathy for their victims, not reignite support for a political force most Georgians are very glad to see the back of.

Therefore attention is focusing on which external actor might be responsible. As always, the Russians are an easy target. Mamuka Ghlonti, leader of the Young Reformers, has stated that “In my opinion this is a long chain and we shouldn’t separate it. I do think that Russian intelligence forces stand behind the videos… They possibly bought these tapes, they would do this with pleasure, as these kind of tapes work on people like us, who are very emotional, very well.”

What we know for a fact is that more of the tapes allegedly destroyed by the present government have already been published by someone claiming to be Kardava. On October 17, 2015 a Ukrainian website uploaded the video entitled “How the Reformers Tortured People in Order to Get What They Wanted.” At the time government minister Irakli Seisashvili admitted that these tapes might have been sold to former UNM officials, but no one really knew where they were coming from.

We also know for a fact that Kardava has been used by the West for its purposes. Though on the run, he is still very active and protected. He is also still connected to the UNM, having spearheaded its campaign in West Georgia at the local elections through various known members of his circle.

These videos were not designed to inflame the Georgian public. They were designed to embarrass anyone in Georgia who might object to the Western dirty tricks programme, as both the present government and many of its opponents have openly done. They are designed to fill Georgian politicians and media figures with such shame that they feel themselves discredited, whether this is true or not, and stop speaking up about what they know and why nothing is being done about it.

The message is clear. We have the tapes, we will use them. If you don’t stop trying to disrupt our activities, or reporting them, we will release these tapes but by bit, and you will be history without is having to take more direct action. It took the West years to find Bidzina Ivanishvili to replace Saakashvili, and for as long as the search for his replacement continues this threat will remain.

Enemies can only know so much. Friends know more. So if compromising information is being broadcast, where is it more likely to be coming from?

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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