TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili had a conflict of interest when revoking a businessman’s citizenship, lawyers argued in Tbilisi City Court Thursday.
The case concerns Bidzina Ivanishvili, a popular financier, who October 7 declared that he wanted to run in next year’s parliamentary election. Four days later, Saakashvili personally signed a decree which means he is no longer a citizen and can’t participate in politics.
Mr Ivanishvili’s legal team today continued laying out their reasons for asking that the decree be declared invalid. Shalva Tadumadze spoke first, making clear that the president didn’t have the authority to revoke the citizenships of the businessman and his wife under Georgian legislation. But even if he had such an authority, Tadumadze says, the President is an interested party, because apart from being president, he is the leader of the ruling political group, which automatically makes him an interested party, and if a person is an interested party, he can’t make such a decision.
The lawyers say that Saakashvili wanted to get rid of a strong political opponent.
To strengthen this position, Eka Beselia, another of Ivanishvili’s lawyers, reminded the court of the president’s recent statement that ‘he is the leader of his team and without him it would be tough for them to manage the electoral process.’
Shalva Tadumadze explained the required procedures of revoking a citizenship, which according to him, was also violated, because the decision was made in 24 hours, while the legislation says that the process needs at least 8 days. The Civil Registry should have contacted the Ministry of Finance and the Interior Ministry to gather the required information for this process, which didn’t happen.
They never contacted the people whose citizenship case was under review to be determined. But the lawyers say it’s absolutely clear, why they didn’t do this: ‘because the government had already made the decision and ordered to revoke their citizenships, so the positions of businessman and his wife wouldn’t have changed anything.’
Tadumadze described it as ‘absolutely inadmissible’ that a person learns via television about the fact that his citizenship has been revoked.
At the end of his speech Tadumadze listed nearly 40 articles in the legislation which had been violated in the revocation process. Starting from the constitution to the organic laws and normative acts his numeration made the whole audience in the hall laugh, even the judge.
“Other articles weren’t violated because they do not regulate this process, otherwise it’s quite clear that they would have been violated too,” Tadumadze added, making people in the court to laugh even more.
Zakaria Kutsnashvili, also part of Ivanishvili’s legal team, spoke afterwards. He claimed that the situation gets humorous. This prompted the judge to say that the court is not a place for humor. But the lawyer didn’t break off his speech and added: “The president has violated so many articles that we should at least laugh, if this is not something to cry over.”
He once again focused on how Mr Ivanishvili achieved citizenship, which was by a special clause about granting it in certain cases based on special merit to the country. The lawyer argued that it’s impossible to revoke a citizenship which has been granted as an exception and that the legislation doesn’t define any process or possibility to revoke such a granted citizenship. Moreover, it’s impossible to make special merits to the country disappear.
Throughout the hearings, the businessman’s lawyers have described the revoking of his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze’s citizenship as a case of ‘claiming black is white’. The Civil Registry and the government argues that they didn’t know that Ivanishvili and his wife were French citizens, in addition to Georgian and Russian citizens, but that they became aware of it after ivanishvili published his first open letter on October 7.
But the businessman’s lawyers say that Ekaterine Khvedelidze was a French citizen before she was granted Georgian citizenship, which makes it a mystery on what grounds her citizenship was revoked.
The Civil Registry representative answered that while granting her a Georgian citizenship in 2004 it was only known that she was a Russian citizen and that they didn’t know anything about her French citizenship.
Until 2004 the 12th article of the constitution about citizenship was only one sentence that if a person becomes citizen of another country, his or her Georgian citizenship will be revoked immediately.
The article 32 fourth subparagraph of the organic law about citizenship says the same.
But in 2004 an additional passage was added to the constitution about the process of granting citizenship on the basis of special merit to the country, and Ivanishvili’s lawyers claim that there is no legal ground for revoking such a citizenship.
But for the entire hearing, both the president’s administration and the Civil Registry’s representatives maintained that the organic law applies to everyone, no matter how a person has become citizen of Georgia.
Tinatin Siradze, representing the president’s administration, repeatedly made reference to article 32, subparagraph 4 of the organic law, giving this same answer to a multitude of evidence, questions and arguments from the lawyers.
After an hour and a half of lawyers’ speeches, she had the floor and presented her argument, lasting just a few minutes, and claimed that she disagrees with all the arguments and that they are groundless. The 40 articles mentioned by Tadumadze hadn’t been violated and the president was acting within the bounds of his authority, she argued.
The speech by the Civil Registry representative also made reference to article 32, subparagraph 4 of the organic law on citizenship. He added that the Civil Registry doesn’t consider the popularity of a person and it doesn’t add any immunity to a person if he is famous, when the Civil Registry reviews a case of citizenship.
Like at the last hearing two days ago, the lawyers asked the other party to present at least one similar case in Georgia when someone has had revoked a citizenship which was granted due to special merits to the country, but the defendants were unable to recall such a case.
They also repeated their argument about the businesman’s children, and asked why their citizenships weren’t reviewed if there was raised suspicion that Khvedelidze was a citizen of another country.
“There was no political context for the children. There was no danger of them for the government,” Eka Beselia said, adding that the children weren’t old enough to establish a political party. This once again makes it clear that political motives were behind these actions.
At the end of her speech she called for the judge to respect justice, the constitution and the court’s reputation and make a just decision.
If the court will not abolish the presidential decree, the lawyers will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. They also are preparing a lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights against the decision made by the judge, Shota Getsadze. He didn’t grant the the lawyers’ request to suspend the presidential decree until the review of the case is finished.
This was the last hearing in the case, and the court will announce its ruling at 2 pm, December 27.