Georgian Billionaire Sues Government, Launches Opposition Movement

Posted December 12th, 2011 at 8:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is suing the government in Tbilisi for revoking his citizenship after authorities learned in October that he also was a French national.

A court in Tbilisi held a hearing Monday in Ivanishvili's case, but his lawyers said their motion — asking the court to replace the presiding judge — has been denied. The court set the next hearing for December 20.

Georgia said Ivanishvili was granted citizenship in 2004 after he returned to the country from Russia, where he also had citizenship. He obtained his French passport in 2009, in violation of a Georgian law that does not allow multiple citizenship.

On Sunday, the billionaire-turned-politician held an inaugural assembly of his new public movement “Georgian Dream,” attended by several thousands of his supporters, including former ministers, opposition politicians, artists and athletes.

In his opening speech, Ivanishvili said the movement will challenge the rule of pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili. He said “the country's leadership has completely exhausted all their internal and external capital resources and has become the main obstacle on the road for society and state development.” He added “the time has come for all of us to start building a new Georgian dream.”

Saakashvili, who became the democratically elected president of Georgia in January 2004 following months of street protests, has sought to steer Georgia toward European Union and NATO memberships. He has been credited with economic and anti-corruption reforms, but opponents have accused him of undemocratic practices and said the president bungled the 2008 war with Russia over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.