Business and media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili said the current “difficult situation” in the country could force him to go into politics.
Patarkatsishvili was speaking in a rare live interview with the Tbilisi-based Imedi TV’s late night talk-show On the Air. Imedi Media Holding, which also includes a radio station, is co-owned by Patarkatsishvili and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
It was an unusual scene, featuring Patarkatsishvili participating in a political talk show and sitting in the TV studio at a round table together with Levan Berdzenishvili, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican Party and Giorgi Khaindrava, ex-State Minister and now an activist with an opposition group, Equality Institute.
“It is very difficult for me sitting here with these people – with whom it is an honor for me to be with, but at the same time I'm uneasy being here now – because I always tried to keep a golden middle in order not to harm the image of Imedi TV; I never wanted to give the impression that I favoured one party or another,” Patarkatsishvili said.
When the anchor, Giorgi Targamadze, asked him if he planned to enter politics, Patarkatsishvili answered: “Unfortunately, the conditions exist for this… The time may come.”
In the event of going into politics, Patarkatsishvili said he would hand over his shares in Imedi Media Holding to News Corporation.
“I ordinarily don't take spontaneous decisions. I am a businessman and I have to analyze everything,” he said. “I have already contacted my partners [News Corp] and told them that the situation here, in Georgia, is difficult, and I have asked them to take charge of [Imedi holding’s] financial affairs for at least a while. Why did I do this? Because I don't know what tomorrow will bring.”
He said he did not expect to be arrested, “But I want to repeat that anything is possible because we are living in an unpredictable environment.”
“So if I go into politics, I will hand over my shares [in Imedi holding] to my partner, who is above suspicion of interference in Georgian political life,” Patarkatsishvili added.
Patarkatsishvili also outlined some of his political views. In particular, he said he supported the call by the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church for a constitutional monarchy in Georgia.
“It was a constructive idea; one we should think about,” he said. “I think the majority of people will welcome it. I fully support it.”
Patarkatsishvili also said that he was not personally against President Saakashvili.
“Let him be the president, but I do not want him to exclusively rule the country, I want others to be involved as well – if not in the decision-making process – at least in discussion stages. Dialogue with the people is necessary. Georgia should be governed collectively.”
He warned that a failure to engage in dialogue could provoke “a political split” in the country.
“Looking at recent developments, I am afraid that the country is on the verge of such a split. It is unfortunate, but a fact,” Patarkatsishvili said. “I am a businessman and I am obviously interested in maintaining stability in the country, so I will do what is required to build bridges between the opposition and the authorities; unfortunately, I do not see that many resources are available to do this.”
He said that a propaganda machine had been switched on and he expected “the black PR campaign” against him to continue.
“It is illogical to accuse me of being a Russian agent,” Patarkatsishvili said. “I lived in Russia for twenty years and I love the Russian people, but this does not mean that I am anti-NATO.”
‘Attacks on Imedi TV’
Patarkatsishvili said that Imedi TV had recently come under attack by the authorities because it was “a beacon of free speech.”
He said that although there had been no “direct attempts” by the authorities “to seize” it, “numerous lucrative proposals” had been offered.
“But I will never give up two things: my dignity and free speech,” he said. “I can give them any other assets I possess in Georgia, but do not touch Imedi.”
Patarkatsishvili did not elaborate further on “the lucrative proposals.” However, in August, when the government announced that it was handing over management rights to a mysterious private company, Parkfield Investments, speculation was rife that the deal in fact involved Patarkatsishvili who allegedly agreed to swap his media holding for the rail network. In September, Patarkatsishvili, however, denied that this was the case and said: “There is no asset in Georgia worth being swapped for Imedi.”
Patarkatsishvili said that the ruling party’s allegations that he and ex-Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili were conspiring against the state were “groundless.”
Patarkatsishvili and his media outlets have become the focus of the political standoff between the authorities and opposition, especially since Okruashvili’s stunning retractions and testimony.
In taped video testimony released by the General Prosecutor’s Office on October 8, Okruashvili retracted his accusations against President Saakashvili of plotting to murder Patarkatsishvili and said that his accusation had been aimed at “gaining political dividends” for him and Patarkatsishvili.
Following Okruashvili’s testimony, key lawmakers from the ruling party accused Patarkatsishvili of “plotting intrigues against the state with the hands of Okruashvili.”
Patarkatsishvili said that he had met Okruashvili three or four times in the past eight months. “Okruashvili informed me of his plans to set up an opposition party – something that everyone knew,” Patarkatsishvili said. “But he never told me anything about the murder plot.”
The face-off between the government and Patarkatsishvili is not the first time the two have come to verbal blows. Last March Patarkatsishvili accused the authorities of trying to apply pressure on his TV station, Imedi. In response, the ruling party accused Patarkatsishvili of attempting “to blackmail the Georgian government.”
In last year’s local elections, Patarkatsishvili was considering running for the Tbilisi mayoral office, however, he declined to do so citing that his participation in the elections would have triggered political split in the society.