Saturday, December 01, 2007

You can judge a man by the company he keeps: More fascist Bush allies

Tycoon vows to topple Georgia’s ‘despot’

GEORGIA'S richest man is to run for president to
remove "the fascist regime" of Mikhail Saakashvili,
leader of the tiny former Soviet republic.

Badri Patarkatsishvili, the billionaire businessman
who helped to finance the "rose revolution" that swept
Saakashvili to power four years ago, made his
declaration after special forces stormed the studios
of his television station for criticising the

"My election slogan will be `Georgia without
Saakashvili is Georgia without terror', he said.

Speaking at the Israeli resort of Eilat, overlooking
the Red Sea, as he fielded calls with the latest news
from Georgia, Patarkatsishvili warned that he would
invest his considerable resources in opposing
Saakashvili, whose pro-western views have made him
popular in Washington.

"I've money, popularity and a powerful media outlet.
I'll use all my strength to free Georgia from this
dictatorial junta," he said in an interview as his
private jet remained on standby, ready to fly him back
to Tbilisi at a moment's notice.

"I've achieved much in life and don't need to prove
anything, so I don't have political ambitions per se.
But after this shameful crackdown that Saakashvili
launched against a peaceful opposition I'm ready to do
anything, even run for president, if it helps my

Earlier, Saakashvili – whose ambition for Georgia to
join Nato has made him deeply unpopular in the Kremlin
– had cracked down hard on antigovernment protests in
Tbilisi. Turning on tens of thousands of demonstrators
with water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas and
batons, Georgian riot police dispersed crowds with a
brutality not seen before under the charismatic young

Members of the opposition were arrested, more than 600
protesters were taken to hospital and special forces
officers broke into Imedi TV, a channel founded by
Patarkatsishvili and co-owned by News Corporation,
which also owns The Sunday Times.

Staff were forced to lie on the floor while much of
the network's equipment was vandalised. The channel
has since been off the air.

Saakashvili, who became president after 1m people took
to the streets to oust Eduard Shevard-nadze, announced
a two-week state of emergency, claiming it was needed
to prevent a Russian-backed coup attempt.

Seeking to appease his critics, Saakashvili announced
early parliamentary elections in January. Georgian
troops were out in force on the streets of Tbilisi
yesterday to prevent further demonstrations.

At the height of the protests Patarkatsishvili, who
divides his time between Tbilisi and a mansion in
Surrey, flew in from London to address the crowds
chanting his name. He then left for Eilat "to avoid
creating even more tension by being in Tbilisi", he

Last week the Georgian authorities stepped up their
pressure on him by launching a criminal investigation
on suspicion that he had sought to overthrow the
government. "They are doing everything to stop me from
running for president. They are scared," the tycoon

Patarkatsishvili, who is Jewish, recalled his sense of
optimism when he helped Saakashvili win power. He was
close to Zurab Zhvania, an ally of the president, who
became prime minister but mysteriously died of carbon
monoxide poisoning in 2005.

"I really felt that democracy had won," said
Patarkatsishvili. "I was convinced that at last we had
a group of young people in power who would rebuild
Georgia – that's why I helped them financially. Sadly
it all changed when Zhvania died.

"Saakashvili has turned into a despot. He doesn't
tolerate any opposition and he has created a deeply
corrupt elite. In Georgia there's terrible
unemployment, no independent judiciary and people have
seen their property expropriated by the state. Last
week's events have shown his true face."
Patarkatsishvili, 52, said he had decided to help to
finance the country's weak and divided opposition, a
move that was welcomed by the US State Department, but
which he said had turned him into a public enemy in
the eyes of the 39-year-old president.

Opposition forces last month formed a shaky coalition
after the arrest of Irakly Okruashvili, a former
defence minister turned critic of Saakashvili. He had
accused the president of corruption and of plotting
Patarkatsishvili's murder. In custody Okruashvili
retracted the allegations and was released on £3m
bail. He is now said to be in Germany.

Since the mountainous republic of 5m people declared
independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it has
experienced turmoil. Under Saakashvili, relations
between Georgia and Russia, which has sought to retain
its influence, have fallen to their lowest ebb since
the collapse of communism.

While it would be rash to write off the president, he
has found a serious opponent in Patarkatsishvili, who
made his fortune in Russia and for nearly two decades
was the closest business partner of Boris Berezovsky –
the tycoon granted asylum in Britain. The two are
still close friends.

When Berezovsky fell out with President Vladimir Putin
in 2001, both billionaires fled Russia to escape
charges of fraud and embezzlement. Patarkatsishvili
returned to Georgia, where he built an empire which
ranges from telecommunications to banking and from
media to Dinamo Tbilisi, the football club.

Patarkatsishvili lives on an estate perched above the
city's Kura River where, during winter, he has his
palm trees encased in glass. One former visitor was
Andrei Lugovoi, the man wanted by Scotland Yard on
suspicion of murdering former KGB officer Alexander
Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium210 in
London last year.

Patarkatsishvili employed Lugovoi in the 1990s as head
of security at ORT, a television channel that he and
Berezovsky controlled until they fell out with Putin.
Patarkatsishvili subsequently used Lugovoi's services
to protect members of his family and described him as
"smart" and "professional".

Last May Scotland Yard detectives questioned the
billionaire, who does not believe that Lugovoi could
have killed Litvinenko knowingly.

As Berezovsky's business partner, Patarkatsishvili was
one of Russia's best-connected oligarchs. The two, who
started out by importing foreign cars, were behind the
creation of some of the biggest companies in
postcommunist Russia.

Patarkatsishvili has known Putin since 1992 when the
future president was deputy mayor in St Petersburg.
The two men liked one another and had dinner several

"When Putin and Berezovsky fell out I was given a
clear choice: to stay in Russia and side with the
Kremlin and others, or to leave and stay loyal to
Boris. Friends are friends, so my choice was easy,"
said Patarkatsishvili.

"The Putin I met 15 years ago was a different man. I
liked him then and was impressed with him. The
authoritarian Russia he has built isn't to my liking,
but since it's what most Russians seem to want, that's
their choice.

"It's definitely not what I want for Georgia. We don't
need dictators who shut down TV stations just because
they have a different voice. I'll do all in my power
to rid my country of Saakashvili by constitutional

Original article posted here.

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