Georgian Authorities Try to Clip Businessman's Wings
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||4 November 2011|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRS Issue 616|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Georgian Authorities Try to Clip Businessman's Wings, 4 November 2011, CRS Issue 616, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4eb90fe32.html [accessed 19 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
As Georgia's government fights to keep oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili out of politics, observers say some of the methods it is using are questionable.
Ivanishvili, whose fortune was estimated at 5.5 billion US dollars in the Forbes List earlier this year, came into conflict with the authorities earlier in the autumn when he announced plans to unseat President Mikhail Saakashvili's administration in the 2012 parliamentary election. (See Billionaire's Political Bid Unsettles Georgian Establishment.)
Almost immediately, he was stripped of Georgian citizenship, on the grounds that he also held a French passport. Government allies accused him of links to the Kremlin, while prosecutors launched four criminal cases against his friends and associates.
His business representative in Russia, Valery Levin, was detained on entering Georgia in October 23. Levin's lawyer said his client was suspected of importing radioactive material, when he in fact was carrying a magazine that had some coloured crystals as a free gift, as a present for Ivanishvili's teenage daughter.
On October 18, six employees of Ivanishvili's Kartu Bank were arrested and accused of laundering money, then released. The case has not been closed, however, and two million euros and one million dollars in currency were seized and have not been returned.
The same day, Nana Kurashvili, a close friend of Ivanishvili's son, was arrested on drugs charges. A week earlier, Tamaz Tamazashvili, father-in-law of the chair of Ivanishvili's Kartu fund, was arrested and accused of illegally carrying a weapon.
Lawyers for Ivanishvili say he is the victim of a campaign of illegal actions. They are focusing on restoring his citizenship, without which he cannot enter politics.
Although Saakashvili and other top officials are normally happy to talk to the press, they have made no comments on the Ivanishvili case, leaving that to parliamentarians from the ruling United National Movement, UNM, who constantly accuse him of links with Moscow.
Most other politicians, even those who take an unfavourable view of Ivanishvili, believe the decision to strip him of citizenship was politically motivated.
"The government's tactics in relation to Ivanishvili are clear, Giorgi Targamadze, leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, said. "It's about taking aggressive steps and provoking him into responding with radical, aggressive moves; into street protests. The authorities feel much more comfortable with street politics, where they have the advantage over any opponent,"
In one of the few interviews he has given, Ivanishvili admitted that the authorities were giving him a hard time, but said that would not stop him.
"Of course, I entered [politics] unprepared. I can't mobilise or build a team at the moment. Having to constantly respond to the government's rash actions and much more creates particular problems me, and hinders me from organising quickly. But over time, I will get it all done," he said. "Even now, I'm not doing too badly at responding to the government's numerous rash actions."
He claimed that the current administration was in danger of collapsing, and even drew comparisons with the end of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya.
"Saakashvili is scared his own team will fall apart… [he] is really facing the danger that outside his immediate entourage, in which maybe ten people remain, the rest of his team starts wavering," he said. "Soon they won't be able to finance the police. Saakashvili will find it hard to fund his favoured circle of people, which will mean it steadily contracts. A hungry nation will lose patience, and a catastrophe will ensue."
Ivanishvili said he was trying to prevent "Gadaffi-isation" in Georgia, and wanted to "lower the temperature and avert confrontation".
In a Georgian media interview. Lincoln Mitchell, an expert on international politics at Columbia University, said the authorities were clearly scared of Ivanishvili, since his wealth almost guaranteed he would be successful in politics.
"It means he can found a television station and change the situation in this country," he said.
Mitchell said Ivanishvili had made intelligent choices when picking which politicians to ally himself with. One of them is Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats.
"It might be that political figures who have been invisible will come to the fore, and this is their chance. Politicians like Alasania are able to fight, and the changing media climate could assist that," Mitchell said.