By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian prosecutors charged TBC Bank Group’s <TBCG.L> chairman and his deputy on Wednesday with money laundering, a move the bankers said was absurd and damaged prospects for attracting investment to the country.
Mamuka Khazaradze, chairman of the group that owns Georgia’s biggest retail bank and also a prominent government critic, and his deputy Badri Japaridze were charged with “laundering illegal revenues worth over $16.75 million,” prosecutors said.
TBC Bank JSC, the corporate division of TBC Bank Group, was investigated this year by the National Bank of Georgia, or central bank, and the office of public prosecution over transactions that took place in 2007 and 2008.
Khazaradze said in February he had been forced to quit his additional role as chairman of TBC Bank JSC due to government pressure.
TBC, which is listed in London, said the two executives were no longer involved in day-to-day management and said there was no suggestion charges would be brought against TBC or its units.
“These charges have nothing in common with money laundering,” Zviad Kordzadze, the lawyer representing both executives, told reporters, dismissing the accusations.
Khazaradze, who said this month he planned to set up a civil movement that analysts say could be turned into a political party before a parliamentary election in 2020, called the charges against him and his colleague “absurd”.
“This is an orchestrated attack on us, … but they harm Georgia’s investment climate,” he said after leaving the prosecutor’s office, adding that the bank’s reputation and investor confidence was being damaged.
Khazaradze founded TBC Bank in 1992, according to the TBC Bank Group website.
The bank’s London-listed shares fell 11% on Wednesday.
Japaridze said TBC Bank Group would not be deterred from implementing projects it was working on, including building a deep-sea port in Anaklia on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. The Anaklia project, worth $2.5 billion, has U.S. support.
The government of the former Soviet state sparked protests last month for inviting a Russian lawmaker to address parliament. Russia briefly invaded Georgia 11 years ago and the opposition accuse the government of not standing up to Moscow.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a rally on June 20 but has failed to deter demonstrators from returning to the streets since then.
(Additional reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Edmund Blair)