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Georgian Billionaire on Politics
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 17 May.'11 / 02:08

Georgian billionaire and philanthropist, Bidzina Ivanishvili, gave a rare glimpse into his views about the Georgian politics in a statement released through his charitable organization, saying that a recent attack on him by one of the opposition politicians was playing into the authorities' hands.

Ivanishvili, whose fortune is estimated by the Forbes at USD 5.5 billion, made money in Russia, but returned back to Georgia about ten years ago and settled in his home village of Chorvila in Imereti region.

Famously publicity-shy billionaire, well-known in Georgia for his generous charitable activities, was slammed by Labor Party leader, Shalva Natelashvili, on May 11 for, as he put it, helping President Saakashvili to stay in power by providing him and his government USD 150 million annually. Similar allegations were voiced by Natelashvili back in 2006, but less than two years later, when the Labor Party leader was running for presidency, he was offering Ivanishvili to be his prime ministerial running mate.

Kartu Group, an organization overseeing Ivanishvili's charitable activities (Kartu Bank is also part of the group), released a statement on May 13 saying that Natelashvili's "absurd allegations are no longer a surprise for anyone."

The statement, released by the Kartu Group's press office and authorized personally by Ivanishvili, then provides reflections on possible motives behind Natelashvili's allegations and in doing so also gives the billionaire's opinion about the political situation in Georgia.

The statement says that “balance of political power” in Georgia consists of “a governing party, opposition and so called pseudo-opposition.”
 
“There is a stable balance in relationship between them and the existing situation is presumably a precondition for the governing team to stay in power. The present authorities feel quite comfortable in this situation and things are going quite well [for the governing party]: it balances the situation, controls businesses; with its manipulations it [the governing party] excellently rules the pseudo-opposition – both parliamentary and non-parliamentary… The real opposition movement finds it very difficult to resist adequately. So, ahead of the upcoming elections, Saakashvili’s positions are quite firm,” the statement reads.
 
The statement says that Bidzina Ivanishvili has reiterated for multiple times, that “he is an apolitical person.”
 
“He [Ivanishvili] has no political interests and about ten-year period of his residence in Georgia only proves it.”
 
“But there is a probability that if he does not want to get involved in the political process personally, he may provide financial or verbal support to a political party or to the entire opposition, isn't it?” the statement reads. “Is not it possible for Ivanishvili to direct this 150 million, mentioned by Natelashvili, towards this direction? Such a move would definitely shatter the above mentioned balance.”
 
“That is exactly the present government whom the collapse of the existing balance does not give a hand and with approaching elections it [the government] shows special cautious towards Ivanishvili not to finance or support any political force. For that reason, if Natelashvili’s previous statements were covered by the print media and televisions of secondary importance, this time his statements were aired for several times by all the channels controlled by the government – Rustavi 2 TV; Imedi TV and the public broadcaster.”
 
“That’s exactly Saakashvili’s government, which tries to gain people’s support, as well as tries to convince the Russian authorities in order to get rid of Ivanishvili and to avert possible theoretical threat coming from him [Ivanishvili].”
 
“Natelashvili is voicing position of the Saakashvili’s government," the statement continues. "Whether Natelashvili is doing it unwittingly or with the instructions from the authorities, that’s up to the readers to decide based on existing facts."

That's the first time when Ivanishvili publicly shows his critical stance towards the authorities.

Six years ago Ivanishvili said in an interview with the Russian daily Vedomosti - probably his only interview - that he neither supported, nor opposed the Georgian government.

"I have no political ambition," Ivanishvili said in that interview published in April, 2005. "The younger generation has come into power in Georgia. I am neither for, nor against them, that’s all I can say."

The statement by the Kartu Group prompted speculation about how serious the billionaire might be about "the probability" of financing the opposition. But as a spokeswoman for the Kartu Group told Civil.ge the statement was not in any way suggesting that Ivanishvili was hinting on possibility to finance the opposition; she said that the statement was clearly stressing that Ivanishvili was "an apolitical person."

Asked to comment on the statement a senior lawmaker from the ruling party, Akaki Minashvili, declined to speak on the issue, telling journalists on May 16 that it was a dispute between Ivanishvili and Natelashvili and it would be inappropriate for "a third party" to comment. 

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