It has all the elements of a resounding scandal: corrupt cops, gay-sex videos, blackmail, and celebrities.
Georgian prosecutors dropped a bombshell this week by announcing that high-ranking officials from the former government had filmed well-known public figures engaging in gay sex and then used the videos to blackmail them.
The former Defense Ministry officials, prosecutors charge, extorted money from their victims and coerced them into cooperating with the secret services. In some cases, this allegedly involved voicing public support for President Mikheil Saakashvili and the government his party controlled.
Archil Kbilashvili, Georgia's prosecutor-general, told a news conference on January 15 that "we wanted to show that the method of state governance went against the law as well as the very values on which society should be based."
Sex Videos Aired
Kbilashvili said such methods were "systematic" at the height of Saakashvili's rule.
To back their claims, prosecutors released several of the sex videos, partially blurred to protect the victims' identity. Several local television channels broadcast the footage.
Dozens of more tapes are believed to be in existence.
Prosecutors say three officials have been arrested and released on bail in the case. They are suspected of recruiting gay men by threatening to reveal their homosexuality.
Gays and lesbians are still severely stigmatized in the conservative Caucasus nation, where the Orthodox Church wields strong influence.
The freshly recruited agents were then instructed to seduce prominent men believed to be gay and lure them to flats fitted with hidden cameras. The ensuing sexual intercourse was recorded and used to blackmail the new victims.
The revelations could deal a major blow to Saakashvili, already reeling from a damaging prison-torture scandal.
Some of the sex videos were aired on Georgian TV
Asked to comment on the allegations at a news briefing, the president said he had personally ensured that such videos were not made under his watch. "Name at least one such case and I will accept the allegations," he told reporters.
He added that he would soon propose a new bill tightening privacy-protection laws.
Saakashvili's tenure has come under intense scrutiny since his party was ousted from government following the October parliamentary elections, which were won by a coalition led by his rival, Bidzina Ivanishvili, now Georgia's prime minister.
The freshly elected parliament has even set up a special commission to investigate misconduct by the former government.
Some Georgians, however, condemn the videos' publication as a grave breach of privacy from both prosecutors and television channels that chose to air the footage.
Gay Community Concerned
Tamar Kordzaia, the head of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, says that "there has to be an extraordinarily high societal need to make the violation of a person's private life acceptable and tolerable, from a legal and, especially, an ethical point of view."
Georgia's small community of gay activists has also voiced deep concern. Irakli Vacharadze, the head of the homosexual rights NGO Identoba (Identity), says that "human beings are not a priority here, they are part of politics and PR."
"The Prosecutor-General's Office did not bother to think about the victims, about their emotional or psychological health, their safety," Vacharadze adds. "They did not think about possible retaliation that the publication of these videos might trigger against those individuals, who had been recruited and were ensnaring the victims."
The videos' release came just two days after Saakashvili accused the new government of using similar "dirty methods" to exert pressure on officials seen as loyal to him.
Saakashvili claimed that secret agents recently sought to intimidate a district police chief by threatening to tell his son that he had been adopted. He also cited another case, in which a female judge was allegedly filmed having sex with her boyfriend and later blackmailed into cooperating with Ivanishvili's secret services.