TBILISI, DFWatch – At 2 pm today the courtcase which could decide Georgia’s future continues. The question before Tbilisi City Court is whether to declare invalid a decree issues by President Mikhail Saakashvili.
The decree robbed Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili of his citizenship, thereby making it illegal for him to enter politics.
His lawyer appealed the decision, but the case has dragged out, once postponed because the judge fell ill. While waiting for a decision, Mr Ivanishvili has launched what’s called a public movement as a vehicle for his political ambitions, which is legal even for non-citizens.
Five lawyers are representing Bidzina Ivanishvili and his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze, whose citizenship also was revoked, and they are facing lawyers for the president’s administration as well as the third party in the case; the Civil Registry.
The session on December 12 lasted for four hours without break and saw a tense deliberation with the plaintiff twice demanding that the judge be taken off the case, first because he said he had an ‘inner belief’ in the correctness of what the Civil Registry stated, and secondly after the judge denied them the use of recording equipment.
The businessman’s lawyers asked to be allowed to record the session with their own audio recorder, claiming that they have this right, but the court didn’t grant them to record neither in audio nor video format. When the session got underway, the judge turned off the court’s audio recorder while giving his decisions.
Both sides presented their explanations, and the session ended with a question and answers regime during which it emerged that it’s possible that president Saakashvili didn’t know that Ekaterine Khvedelidze was already a French citizen in 2004, when she was granted her Georgian citizenship.
The case dates back to early October, when Mr Ivanishvili, till then a low-profile though well-known public person, published an open letter declaring his intention to start an opposition movement to remove Saakashvili from power. In the letter, Ivanishvili said he would renounce his Russian and French citizenships as part of his political campaign.
Four days later, on October 11, the president issued a decree which terminated his and his wife’s citizenship. The Civil Registry, which formally keeps track of who are citizens, stated that it was unknown to them that Ivanishvili was a French citizen, and that the couple’s Georgian citizenships had been ‘automatically’ terminated in light of this new information.
Ivanishvili’s lawyers appealed to Tbilisi City Court, requesting to restore his and his wife’s Georgian citizenship, arguing that the presidential decree was unlawful. The lawyers December 12 presented evidence which they say prove this.
A poll recently showed that if Bidzina Ivanishvili runs in next year’s parliamentary election, his bloc would receive between a quarter and a third of the votes and come a close second to the ruling National Movement party of President Saakashvili. One poll showed he was the preferred candidate for prime minister, ahead of Mr Saakashvili.