TBILISI, DFWatch – The government in Georgia can gain one year by delaying a court case which will decide whether to allow an opposition financier to form a political party. By that time, the parliamentary election will be over. 

The only legal way for the government not to allow Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and his wife to participate in this year’s parliamentary election is to take their citizenship case to the court and drag out the process.

This is the result of a recent court ruling which upheld a presidential decree annul Ivanishvili’s citizenship but decided that the annulment of his wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze’s citizenship was unlawful.

President Mikheil Saakashvili revoked the couple’s citizenship in October 2011, just four days after Ivanishvili declared that he would go into politics. The argument was that the government didn’t know that Ivanishvili and his wife both were French citizens as well as Georgian and Russian. According to Georgian legislation, double citizenship is allowed, but a person needs to go through a specific application process which the government claims had not been done in this case.

Georgian law prohibits non-citizens from getting involved in or finance political processes. Ivanishvili’s political partners have said that the businessman will set up his own party in February regardless of what happens. They say that at the beginning the party may be set up without him and his wife, but they will join the party after their citizenship issue is solved. The court process is in progress regarding this case.

The court recognized as illegal the presidential decision regarding Khvedelidze, because she was French citizen before receiving Georgian citizenship and there was no formal basis for the president to make such a decision.

But lawyers say the problem now is that the government can drag out this court case to buy time.

“The dispute will most likely not be resolved before the elections,” legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze says.

The president can appeal the court ruling at every level. The ruling by Tbilisi City Court was announced on December 27, 2011.

Then, on January 10 the court gave its explanation and from January 10 there is a 14 days deadline, making January 24 the last day the president can appeal this decision, otherwise the court’s decision will be enforced.

If the president decides to enforce the court ruling, it’s clear that the citizenship of Khvedelidze should be restored by the end of January. But the president can appeal the decision to Supreme Court. In this case he will be able to delay the process for one year.

If he appeals it to Tbilisi Appeal’s Court, the the case may take up to five months; and then he may appeal to Supreme Court, which means an additional six months. In other words, the whole appeal process may take close to one year. By that time, the parliamentary elections are long past.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili, who heads Ivanishili’s team of lawyers, says that they have already asked the court to immediately enforce the court ruling, because Ivanishvili’s wife already has said that she wants to form a party but if she isn’t a citizen, she won’t be able to do this. The court should make a decision about enforcing its decision before the presidenti’s appeal process is finished. It means that by January 24 it should be clear, what decision will make the president, if he will enforce the court decision or appeal it to the court; and on the other hand, if the court will demand to immediately restore Khvedelidze’s citizenship.

The court may refuse to carry out this request, but Kutsnashvili hopes that this won’t happen, because the issue should be reviewed by the same judge who recognized the president’s decision as illegal, and it will be hard for him to justify it.

Meanwhile, Ivanishvili has sent a request to the president asking to give him Georgian citizenship through naturalization. This means that if he meets four requirements, he should be given Georgian citizenship. These are to have lived in Georgia for the past five years, to know Georgian language, history and general legal bases and having business or private assets in Georgia.

Lawyers claim that Ivanishvili satisfies all requests and the government has 50 day-terms to make the decision. Ivanishvili appealed to president on January 5, so the issue should be clear by February, 2012.

In case the president rejects Ivanishvili’s application for naturalization, he will have to explain it by giving one of three possible reasons: That Ivanishvili is either a terrorist, an internationally wanted criminal or that giving him citizenship is a danger to society.

“There is only one danger here: that the president refuses to give him citizenship and this way opens the road to a court case. In case of a court case, there will be time limits, which can again delay [a decision]. I am sure he finally will be obliged to grant this request, because there are no grounds for refusing. But it seems that the government doesn’t worry how we or the international community see this and they have only one short goal: to somehow not give the opportunity to Ivanishvili to participate in elections,” Vakhtang Khmaladze explains.