Georgia opposition tycoon slams citizenship cancellation

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A Georgian billionaire whose citizenship was cancelled after he joined the opposition said on Wednesday he had been targeted because he was trying to challenge the government.

Tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili's lawyer said in a statement that the tycoon's citizenship was valid and the authorities were using "inadmissible methods of settling political scores".

Ivanishvili, one of Georgia's richest men with a fortune estimated at $5.5 billion (four billion euros) by Forbes magazine, said last week he intended to form a political party to challenge President Mikheil Saakashvili's governing party at parliamentary polls in 2012.

But the Public Registry Agency said on Tuesday that Ivanishvili's citizenship had automatically been cancelled in line with Georgian law because he had also taken French citizenship -- effectively scuppering his plans as only Georgian citizens can set up a political party.

Although Ivanishvili confirmed last week that he holds a French passport, his lawyer Eka Beselia said Wednesday he had a Georgian passport issued in 2011 and was listed on the official voters' roll.

"Bidzina Ivanishvili is a citizen of Georgia," she said in the statement.

The reclusive businessman and philanthropist sparked huge public interest in the former Soviet republic when he accused Saakashvili of monopolising power, curbing media freedom, cracking down on opponents and pressuring business.

Saakashvili's party in turn accused Ivanishvili of being a stooge for the country's arch foe Moscow, which fought a war with Tbilisi in 2008, because the businessman made his fortune in Russia and holds Russian citizenship as well as French.

Ivanishvili denied any links to Russian political interests.

"I am not going to start justifying myself because of dirty gossip made up by the authorities and because of absurd accusations," he said in a separate statement also issued on Wednesday.

When another Georgian tycoon, Badri Patarkatsishvili, tried to challenge the authorities in 2007, he was accused of plotting a coup, his television station was shut down by security forces and his presidential bid the following year only attracted 7.1 percent of the vote.

© 2011 AFP

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