TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgian authorities today denied the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili of becoming a citizen of his native country.
Today’s decision by the Civil Registry to deny him citizenship by naturalization ends the last legal avenue the opposition businessman had to get back the citizenship of the country in which he was born and has spent the last nine years.
As a foreigner, Mr Ivanishvili is severly handicapped in his quest for political power, because the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili last year enforced new rules which blocks any non-Georgian from engaging in politics directly or indirectly.
Despite all possibilities seemingly exhausted, the businessman made it clear that he will continue the fight. He has already lost one court case in the matter.
“If we look at the government’s decision in legal frames, it’s illegal and we will appeal it in the court,” Ivanishvili’s lawyer Archil Kbilashvili said today.
Ivanishvili’s citizenship was revoked in October last year, four days after he declared he would go into politics and challenge the government in the 2012 election. The businessman, who is popular among parts of society and considered the most serious challenger to Saakashvili, appealed to the Civil Registry in January.
“Georgian legislation foresees two procedures to receive Georgian citizenship: first – naturalization: for persons, who are not other countries’ citizens. Second – double citizenship: giving citizenship to persons, which at the same time are citizens of other countries,” stated the Civil Registry in a statement released on Wednesday, explaining the reason behind the refusal.
When Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest Georgian and a contributor to a range of charitable social and cultural endeavors in the country, released his first open letter in October 2011, he was a Georgian, Russian and French citizen. Four days later, Saakashvili revoked his Georgian citizenship, the formal reason being that Ivanishvili acquired French citizenship without informing the Georgian Civil Registry. He then decided to renounce the other citizenships and focus on regaining his Georgian one. Hence, he is no longer Russian citizen; however France will only suspend his French citizenship, when his Georgian citizenship is restored.
“French citizen Bidzina Ivanishvili appealed to the Civil Registry to receive Georgian citizenship through naturalization. Georgian legislation doesn’t foresee giving Georgian citizenship to foreign citizen through naturalization,” the Civil Registry statement says.
Ivanishvili’s lawyers say the statement is controversial in relation to Georgian legislation.
Archil Kbilashvili, one of his lawyers, says giving citizenship through naturalization is exactly for citizens of foreign country.
When a person is a foreign country citizen and applies for citizenship through naturalization, he or she is ready to then give away the foreign citizenship.
In his open letters Ivanishvili declared that he was going to give away his Russian and French passports.
“This means that a person who applies to the president for citizenship through naturalization is citizen of another country at the moment.”
The Civil Registry says that as a foreign citizen, Bidzina Ivanishvili should have applied for double citizenship.
In 2004, the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili granted Georgian citizenship to Ivanishvili and his wife for special merits to the country.
At the time, Ivanishvil was only Russian citizen, later he became French citizen, which became grounds for president to revoke his Georgian citizenship in October, 2011.
But Georgian legislation doesn’t foresee suspending a citizenship which was granted. This is one of the main arguments of Ivanishvili’s lawyers.
“One cannot erase special merits to the country.”
The businessman’s lawyers presented a number of arguments to Tbilisi City Court, but the Civil Registry and the representative of the president’s administration kept repeating one and only sentence; that if person becomes citizen of another country while being a Georgian citizen, his Georgian citizenship is automatically suspended.
Ivanishvili received French citizenship years before 2011, but it only became problem four days after he published his open letter, declaring his political goals and criticizing the government.
The Civil Registry representatives said they only learned about his French citizenship in his open letter. That’s why they were late to make such a decision.
However, their argument – automatic suspension of Georgian citizenship while becoming foreign country citizen – applies to ordinary citizens, but not for persons who were granted Georgian citizenship.
On December 27, Tbilisi City Court made a decision to restore the Georgian citizenship of Ekaterine Khvedelidze, the businessman’s wife, who was already a French and Russian citizen when she was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004. But the court didn’t change Saakashvili’s decision in Ivanishvili’s case.
According to new amendments to Georgian legislation, a non-citizen cannot set up a political party, get involved in political processes, or finance political subjects, even through legal entities, which means through private companies.
To receive Georgian citizenship through naturalization, a person should have lived in the country at least five years, know the history and language and legislative basics.
The businessman satisfies all these conditions, his lawyers say.