Two Israeli businessmen were convicted on Friday of trying to pay over $7 million in bribes to the deputy finance minister of Georgia. Their families and lawyers continue to deny the charges, claiming Georgia is trying to avoid paying $100 million it owes the two businessmen.
Ron Fuchs, former owner of Tramax, was sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of $295,000, and Zeev Frenkel, owner of a company that has been involved in a range of business ventures in Georgia, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison and a $60,000 fine
Frenkel, who reportedly has considerable oil and gas interests in Georgia, was recently awarded $100 million from the Georgian government after an international arbitration tribunal found the government failed to fulfill its obligation to the businessmen.
According to the conviction, the two men, who have extensive business interests in Georgia, were meeting with Deputy Finance Minister Avtandil Kharadze to persuade him to use his influence to cancel the government's appeal against the arbitration verdict. The prosecution said it has video footage of the two meeting with Kharadze in Istanbul, with the businessmen clearly heard offering a multimillion bribe to the deputy minister. They were arrested after a later meeting with Kharadze in the Georgian city of Batumi, in October last year.
Fuchs's associates lashed out against the verdict, claiming it was an insult to intelligence and an attempt to avoid paying their debt. One of Fuchs's attorneys told Haaretz that the defense team did not get to see the unedited footage from the meeting, and that the team is sure the tape has been doctored by local agencies, pointing out that only about five and half minutes were used out of a meeting that lasted several hours. He said the businessmen are appealing to the European Human Rights Court in Strassbourg.
The trial of the two businessmen has already created tensions between the two countries. Fuchs is a friend of President Shimon Peres and former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. Peres is known to have spoken to his Georgian counterpart about the detained Israelis shortly after their arrests.
The Foreign Ministry would not comment on the affair, but sources within the ministry said every effort will be made to help the businessmen. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent a telegram to his Georgian counterpart before the verdict, and the affair was one of the reasons behind the postponement of a visit by the Georgian speaker of parliament to Israel.
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