The authorities in Georgia have stripped the country’s richest man of his citizenship, just as he was preparing to launch a new opposition movement aimed at unseating president Mikheil Saakashvili in elections the coming two years.
Revoking Bidzina Ivanishvili’s citizenship effectively means that he can’t legally take part in political activities nor fund political parties, nor run in elections in the country. The ramifications of this are yet to be seen.
The decision came in the form of a letter from the Civil Registry which terminates Ivanishvili’s Georgian citizenship. Lawyers DFWatch has spoken to do not see any legal inaccuracies in the statement but say the businessman can appeal to the president and there are no legal grounds for rejecting such a request.
Meanwhile, the government has started talking about Ivanishvili’s connections with Russia.
“If [a presidential] decree exists, it should be published; on the other hand, without such a decree the citizenship cannot be terminated. So we can assume that Ivanishvili’s citizenship is not terminated” –Kahka Kojoridze, Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association
The essence of the Civil Registry’s letter is that he had already been granted citizenship once. After he became citizen of another country, his Georgian citizenship was legally terminated.
In this case, if we exclude political motives, termination of his citizenship is not a violation, as the lawyers say. Another part of this picture is that Bidzina Ivanishvili was willing to renounce his citizenship of Russia and France, according to his statement released on October 7.
The termination of Ivanishvili’s citizenship follows from Georgian legislation in case it is proven that he received citizenship of another country, Kakha Kojoridze, chairman of the Legal Aid Department at Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, explains.
But according to him, there are questions whether it has been proven that he received another country’s citizenship after receiving the Georgian one. Even more important is the question of whether the President issued a decree regarding the case, and if issued, when.
“According to procedural rules, the Civil Registry must apply to the President based on their information, and then the president should issue a special decree to terminate a person’s citizenship after a six month period. We could not find any indicatinos about whether the President received such an application and if he received it, when? If such a decree exists, it should be published; on the other hand, without such a decree the citizenship cannot be terminated. So we can assume that Ivanishvili’s citizenship is not terminated,” Kahka Kojoridze says.
Furthermore, the Civil Registry has not explained when it made the decision to terminate Bidzina Ivanishvili’s citizenship.
“Everyone must clearly understand that Georgian society is not for sale, media is not for sale and the country is not for sale” –Pavle Kublashvili, ruling party parliamentarian
In parliament Tuesday, spokespersons for the ruling party said they too didn’t have knowledge of whether such a decree was published by the President. But Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of the Legal Committee, said he hopes that the president did issue it.
According to him, the citizenship is automatically terminated immediately after a person is granted citizenship of another country. This is not anyone’s decision to make, and as for the issuing of a decree, it’s just a formal procedure, Kublashvili asserts.
Zakaria Kutsnashvili, chairman of the NGO Law for People claims that the President can make a decision about terminating a person’s citizenship, but he can also foresee all the reasons that may become fundamental for granting a citizenship and decide not to terminate it.
This issue is not reflected in the Georgian legislation, but the law says that while granting a person citizenship, particular consideration may in some cases be given to a person’s merit and contribution to his country. This argument may be taken into account even if a decision is taken about the termination, according to Zakaria Kutsnashvili. So it’s unclear for him, by which argument Saakashvili will justify the termination of Ivanishvili’s citizenship.
The question of citizenship is important, because a person cannot be a politician and cannot fund politics in Georgia, without being a citizen. But on the other hand, if the decision to revoke citizenship is later overturned, that person may enter politics and fund parties, just as long as he gets back his citizenship in time before the elections.
The only restriction is that a person who holds dual citizenship cannot become president, prime minister or parliament speaker. In addition, presidential candidates should have been living in the country for the last five years.
The question of citizenship is therefore crucial to whether Bidzina Ivanishvili can enter politics.
Even if Ivanishvili’s citizenship is already terminated, he has the right to appeal to the President and request to get it back, lawyers say. The president cannot have legal reason to deny this, because of the clause of paying particular attention to a person’s merit and contribution towards his country while deciding this. And this might happen, unless the government in the meantime doesn’t bring up other issues, and there are aleady signs that they are doing that.
When DFWatch talked with the ruling party parliamentarians about these legal issues, they made references to the connection between Ivanishvili and Russia.
“The legal aspects of this issue are absolutely clear: When a Georgian citizen is granted citizenship of another country than the Georgian citizenship is terminated. It’s a strict legal requirement. So all the information released from the Civil Registry falls fully in line with Georgian legislation.”
“The second thing is the political side, and it is equally important. We actually heard the Russian proposal to buy Georgian politics, media and Georgian society. Everyone must clearly understand that Georgian society is not for sale, media is not for sale and the country is not for sale, so accordingly such efforts always fail,” Pavle Kublashvili told DFWatch.