The Georgian Prosecutor's office announced on March 15 that charges have been brought against five people in connection with illegal video footage featuring prominent political figures engaging in sexual intercourse.
The investigation that led to those arrests was launched before the release over the past five days of two such video clips, which Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani told the British daily The Guardian were made during the period when former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM) was in power.
Prosecutor Koka Katsitadze has declined to confirm or deny a direct connection between the recent leaks and the charges brought against the five.
The first clip, uploaded on March 11, reportedly featured a leading member of the opposition Free Democrats party.The second, uploaded on March 14, featured people who have not been identified and contained a warning voiced by a speaker off-screen to three politicians, one from the opposition and two from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, plus one journalist, that comparable footage of them in intimate situations would be made public unless they withdrew from political activity by March 31 and left the country.
Most Georgian media outlets have declined to identify the politicians involved. But journalist Inga Grigolia, one of those threatened, responded by publicly reaffirming her right "as a woman, a mother, a daughter and a girlfriend" to continue enjoying sex with her lover.
The clips, both of which were removed within hours of being posted, elicited widespread public condemnation. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili responded to the first case with a statement in which he denounced the posting as "vile" and warned that whoever filmed and circulated the clip will be made to answer before the law. He pledged to "do everything to ensure that such horrible recordings disappear from our lives once and for all."
President Giorgi Margvelashvili responded only after the second clip surfaced on March 14. He assured those targeted of the authorities' full support and, echoing Kvirikashvili, warned that the "dark forces" that seek to "terrorize" and "blackmail" will be identified and apprehended.
This is by no means the first instance in recent Georgian history in which a video leak has made waves. A clip of a prisoner being sodomized by wardens with a broom handle, made public just weeks before the October 2012 parliamentary ballot, may well have contributed to the defeat of Saakashvili's ENM by the Georgian Dream coalition.
After the March 11 footage surfaced, Free Democrats' chairman Irakli Alasania construed it as an attack on his party in the run-up to parliamentary elections due in October. The posting of a second clip threatening the ruling coalition casts doubt on that argument, however.
According to Tsulukiani, the Georgian authorities have already formally requested help from the U.S. FBI and from a second country she declined to name in determining where the videos had been uploaded from. Georgian Dream, which came to power in 2012, pledged to destroy incriminating video footage and telephone conversations of political figures accumulated by the Interior Ministry under the ENM, but this has clearly not been done systematically.
On March 15, the prosecutor's office released a detailed account of how clandestinely filmed video footage of a politician from Georgian Dream was offered in mid-December to Eliso Kaladze, an editor for the Tbilisi-based newspaper Khronika+. That footage reportedly originated with Zurab Jamalashvili, a former employee of the Department for Constitutional Security who was arrested on March 15 together with his lawyer Irakli Pkhaladze. Both men deny owning or circulating any incriminating video footage.