TBILISI, DFWatch – The opposition billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is going back to court, in a further effort to be recognized as a Georgian citizen.
Authorities annulled Ivanishvili’s citizenship shortly after he revealed his plans to become a politician in October 2011. He has since unsuccessfully been trying to reclaim it, which is a precondition for being allowed to take part in the election for parliament in five month’s time.
Now Ivanishvili’s lawyers are lodging another appeal with Tbilisi City court, this time against the Civil Registry Agency and President Mikheil Saakashvili. The case is based on a claim that authorities broke the rules when revoking Ivanishvili’s citizenship.
In October 2011, Ivanishvili published an open letter in which he strongly criticized the Saakashvili regime and set out a plan to gather supporters and remove it from power in the upcoming parliament elections.
After just four days, the president issued a decree which revoked his and his wife’s Georgian citizenships.
They both complained, and their case went before Tbilisi Court in December, their lawyers claiming that the president’s decision was illegal. The court restored the citizenship of Ekaterine Khvedelidze, the wife of Ivanishvili, but didn’t overturn the decision regarding the businessman.
Lawyers then prepared a plan of restoring the businessman’s citizenship by other legal avenues, and said they were sure that it would have been restored by April 21.
The case built on the fact that Ivanishvili in 2004 was granted Georgian citizenship under a clause about special merits to the country. If he was worthy of being granted citizenship in 2004, surely he must qualify today, after an additional seven years of philanthropic work for society, was the reasoning.
In January, his lawyers applied to the president for a citizenship through naturalization. The criteria are that a person must be born in Georgia, have lived here for the last five years, must knows the language and history, and have his own private business here. Ivanishvili satisfied all these conditions.
After spending the longest possible amount of time to handle the application, the Civil Registry issued a brief letter of refusal which said that Ivanishvili shouldn’t have applied for naturalization, but dual citizenship, since he is a French citizen.
His lawyers countered that naturalization is exactly something given to foreign citizens. The difference between the two avenues is that in the case of naturalization, the president must give citizenship when asked, but when it comes to dual citizenship, he has the authority to refuse.
In his first open letter, Ivanishvili wrote that he would give up his Russian and French citizenships and remain only a Georgian citizen. He gave away the Russian citizenship, but France refused to revoke his citizenship before the Georgian one was restored.
Ivanishvili’s lawyers argue that the president should have approved or disapproved the Civil Registry’s decision. The fact that he didn’t is a violation of the organic law about citizenship, they say. That is the basis for their claim in Tbilisi City Court, filed on May 2. A decision should be made within two months.
Speaker of Parliament Davit Bakradze was today asked how to solve the problem of Ivanishvili’s citizenship. He answered that the issue should be solved within the frames of the law.
When the businessman made his first political statements, Georgian legislation did not allow non-citizens to get involved in politics, or to set up or finance a political party. That was changed, however, after the Civil Registry rejected Ivanishvili’s naturalization application. The Christian Democrats proposed a constitutional change which almost seemed tailor made for solving the impasse and would give Ivanishvili political rights as a citizen of France.
The amendment gave full political rights to EU citizens who are born in Georgia and have lived here the last ten years.
Parliament passed the amendment, which gave Ivanishvili a legal right to participate in the elections, but not to vote.