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Bidzina Ivanishvili

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Bidzina Ivanishvili
ბიძინა ივანიშვილი
Bidzina Ivanishvili 2013-07-19.jpg
Ivanishvili in 2013
10th Prime Minister of Georgia
In office
25 October 2012 – 20 November 2013
PresidentMikheil Saakashvili
Giorgi Margvelashvili
Preceded byVano Merabishvili
Succeeded byIrakli Garibashvili
Chairman of Georgian Dream
In office
26 April 2018 – 11 January 2021
Preceded byGiorgi Kvirikashvili
Succeeded byIrakli Kobakhidze
In office
12 April 2012 – 15 November 2013
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byIrakli Garibashvili
Personal details
Born (1956-02-18) 18 February 1956 (age 66)
Chorvila, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
(now Georgia)
Citizenship
Political partyGeorgian Dream (2012–present)
Spouse(s)
Ekaterine Khvedelidze
(m. 1991)
Children4, including Bera
Alma materTbilisi State University
Moscow State University of
Railway Engineering
AwardsLegion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg Legion of Honour - Knight (2020)[1][2]
Net worthUS$6.02 billion (September 2021)[3]
Signature

Bidzina Ivanishvili (Georgian: ბიძინა ივანიშვილი, also known as Boris Grigoryevich Ivanishvili[a]; born 18 February 1956)[4] is a Georgian politician, billionaire businessman and philanthropist, who served as Prime Minister of Georgia from October 2012 to November 2013. He was Honorary Consul of the Republic of San Marino in Georgia from 2000 to 2012.[5]

Ivanishvili founded the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party on 21 April 2012. He became the leader of the coalition of opposition parties, and won a victory in the 2012 Georgian parliamentary election against incumbent Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili and the United National Movement party of President Mikheil Saakashvili. In late 2012, Ivanishvili took office as Prime Minister in the first peaceful transition of power to ever take place in Georgia. In 2013, however, Ivanishvili resigned, claiming to have left politics. In 2018, he returned to politics and was elected as the chairman of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party. In 2021, he again left all political positions, stating he had achieved his political aims. However, he is commonly viewed as an éminence grise of Georgian politics and the country's informal leader.

Under Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream party, Georgia has experienced democratic backsliding and state capture,[6][7][8][9] and opposition leaders, such as Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Melia, being arrested on charges of organising violence. Conversely, his supporters regard him as representative of rural Georgians and an opponent of western liberalism.[10]

In March 2012, Ivanishvili was ranked at number 153 in Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's billionaires with an estimated worth of $6.4 billion, making him Georgia's richest person. Ivanishvili has been mentioned in the Panama Papers, Pandora Papers, and Suisse secrets financial leaks.

Early life and career

Bidzina Ivanishvili was born in the village of Chorvila, Georgia, as the youngest of five children to a poor family. His father, Grigor Ivanishvili, worked in a manganese factory. As a child, Bidzina was raised in extreme poverty (for example, not having access to shoes). His poor background would later endear him to rural Georgians and help to bring him victory in the 2012 Georgian parliamentary election.[10]

Bidzina graduated from high school in Sachkhere. He also graduated from the Faculty of Engineering and Economics of the Tbilisi State University in 1980, and, in 1982, went to Moscow to pursue a PhD in economics at the Moscow State University of Railway Engineering.[11]

Prior to 1990, while living in Moscow, Ivanishvili met Vitaly Malkin, a Russian businessman currently into politics,[12] with whom he formed a partnership selling computers, and later importing what was then a novelty in Russia, push-button telephones.[11] The source of his great wealth is metals and banking.[13]

Ivanishvili supported Alexander Lebed, one of the leading Soviet military figures in the 1996 Russian presidential election.[14]

Ivanishvili returned to Chorvila in 2003. Upon his return, he began giving out goods such as DVD players and stoves, as well as promising free healthcare for the town's residents.[15] However, at the same time, he remained elusive, preferring to remain out of the attention of the press.[16] Around this time, he gave US$1 billion to support the government of Georgia after the Rose Revolution.[17]

2012 parliamentary election

On 7 October 2011, Ivanishvili announced his intention to lead the opposition in the 2012 Georgian parliamentary election in a written statement, citing the perceived authoritarianism of President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. In the same statement, he stated he would renounce his French and Russian citizenship, as well as sell off all of his assets in Russia.[18] His bank Rossiysky Kredit was sold for 352 million dollars, to a group of investors comprising major Russian bankers. His drugstore chain Doktor Stoletov was sold for 60 million dollars to the Imperia-Pharma company. His agriculture company Stoilenskiy Niva was also sold.

Four days after declaring his intentions,[19] Ivanishvili was stripped of his citizenship by Georgian authorities, citing article 32 of the Georgian Law on Citizenship.[20] On 27 December 2011, a Tbilisi court upheld the revocation of Ivanishvili's citizenship, but overturned the revocation of his wife's citizenship. Subsequently, she announced her intentions to run for a seat in the Parliament of Georgia.[21]

On 21 February 2012, Ivanishvili announced a coalition by the name of Georgian Dream, composed of his planned political party of the same name, the Republican Party of Georgia, Our Georgia – Free Democrats, and the National Forum.

Georgian Dream's 12-point manifesto included among other policies, the development of liberal democracy, deepening integration with the European Union and NATO, and improvement of education and healthcare infrastructure.[22] Following the announcement, the Industry Will Save Georgia party joined the coalition on 11 April 2012.[23]

On 21 April 2012, Ivanishvili formally established the Georgian Dream political party. Since Ivanishvili was not a Georgian citizen at the moment of the party's inaugural session, the lawyer Manana Kobakhidze was elected as an interim, nominal chairman of the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia. The main goals of Georgian Dream were stated to be a revival of agriculture, lowering taxes on the poor, universal health insurance, normalization of relations with Russia and strengthening Georgia's ties to the EU and NATO.[24]

Ivanishvili united much of the Georgian opposition around him. The Georgian Dream coalition included parties of diverse ideological orientations.[25][26] The coalition was made up of parties ranging from pro-market and pro-western liberals to nationalists and protectionists, united in their dislike of Saakashvili and the United National Movement.[27][28] The name of the alliance was inspired by a rap song by Ivanishvili's son Bera.[29][30]

The Georgian Dream coalition successfully challenged the ruling United National Movement (UNM) in the 2012 parliamentary election. Georgian Dream won the election with 54.97% of the vote.[31] Widespread celebrations in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi were held in support of Georgian Dream. The next day, Saakashvili accepted the results as legitimate, while at the same time noting that he remained deeply opposed to the coalition.[32]

Ivanishvili held a speech criticising the President Saakashvili at length; Ivanishvili accused him of being "the main cause of all the bad things in Georgia," and called for him to resign as President, saying "This will be the end of his problems." Ivanishvili further criticised in particular the planned city of Lazika on Georgia's Black Sea coast, to be developed with the support of then-businessman Donald Trump, as well as Saakashvili's political and economic reforms in general.[32]

UNM politicians also attempted to connect Ivanishvili to the Georgian mafia, with video and audio recordings claiming to show the leadership of Georgian Dream speaking with members of the mafia, though Ivanishvili denied any such connections.[33]

Prime Minister of Georgia (2012-2013)

Ivanishvili in the Polish Senate, 2013

On 25 October 2012, Ivanishvili officially took office as Prime Minister of Georgia, marking the first peaceful transition of power to occur in Georgia's history.[34] In November 2013, Ivanishvili voluntarily stepped down as prime minister after just 13 months in office, saying that he was quitting the political arena.

During this period, the state universal healthcare programme came into force.[35]

Ivanishvili's one of the main campaign themes in 2012 was "restoration of justice" after Gldani prison scandal revealed numerous violations in the Georgian prison system. Upon assuming office, Ivanishvili announced his intention to prosecute officials of the Saakashvili government for human rights abuses committed while in office. Subsequently, a number of former officials, including minister of prisons and his deputies, were arrested. Other officials have been declared wanted through Interpol's Red Notice.[36]

On 21 May 2013, Ivanishvili's predecessor as Prime Minister, Vano Merabishvili, and governor of Kakheti Zurab Tchiaberashvili were arrested and charged with abuse of power, bribery, and misuse of funds. The arrests were denounced by the UNM as politically-motivated, a claim Ivanishvili rejected as "weak."[37]

In October 2013, Ivanishvili said that President Mikheil Saakashvili could also face criminal charges. Saakashvili claimed that his party was being victimised. According to Le Figaro, American authorities urged him to relocate to the United States, and the European Union cautioned against charging Saakashvili, drawing a comparison to the 2011 arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych.[38]

Ivanishvili was accused of selective justice, although he denied these accusations.[39]

The day before the 2013 anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi, Ivanishvili has stated that "sexual minorities are the same citizens as we are... [and that] the society will gradually get used to it."[40]

First resignation (2013-2018)

Ivanishvili in an interview, 2013

Following a victory by Georgian Dream candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili in the 2013 Georgian presidential election, Ivanishvili announced his intention to resign as Prime Minister. 20 November 2013, Ivanishvili resigned as Prime Minister after just over a year in office. He was succeeded by Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili, whom he had announced as his successor on 2 November 2013.[41] Ivanishvili stated that his intention was to form a non-government organisation to "teach Georgians democracy".[42] Four days after his resignation as Prime Minister, he resigned as Chairman of Georgian Dream.[43]

His successor Irakli Garibashvili has thanked him for creating "unique precedent" by leaving all political positions "at the zenith of popularity and influence", although Ivanishvili was still regarded by his political opponents as the de facto leader of Georgia, seeing his move as a step avoid the responsibilities and duties of holding office. They argued that Ivanishvili continued to govern the country from off stage, and sponsored the 2016 TV series Herocratia, which dealt with prisoner torture and other abuses during the previous government, and arguably aimed to discredit the UNM and Mikheil Saakashvili.[44][42][45]

Chairmanship of Georgian Dream, second resignation (2018-present)

Ivanishvili (on right) with Irakli Kobakhidze, 2020

In 2018, Ivanishvili made a return to politics, being re-elected as the chairman of Georgian Dream on 26 April 2018.[43] His return was perceived as a move to maintain the unity of the coalition.[46]

On 5 November 2018, Ivanishvili addressed the public ahead of the presidential election runoff. He said that the people's dissatisfaction is understandable, although it would be a mistake to elect the opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze, who announced that he would pardon Bachana Akhalaia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and others "charged with torture and abuse". He promised that the situation in the country will change for the better in a year.[47] The Cartu Foundation, owned by Ivanishvili, promised to completely cover debts for 600,000 citizens, which was criticized as a "blatant instance of vote buying".[48]

On 20 June 2019, protests erupted in Tbilisi over the visit of Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov. Amidst his visit, Gavrilov gave a speech on Russo-Georgian unity whilst seated in the speaker's chair. The protests grew violent and the police used the rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters. The protests later calmed after Ivanishvili announced a change to the electoral system from a mixed to fully proportional representation for the 2020 elections and lowering the vote barrier for parties, which were the main demands of protesters.[42][49][50] However, in November 2019, majoritarian members of parliament (MPs elected from particular constituencies) from Georgian Dream blocked the electoral reform, couching their opposition to the amendments in terms of preserving the direct link between local areas and their directly-elected representatives. It was speculated that they had been told to oppose the amendments by Ivanishvili himself.[51] The protests renewed. After the ruling party and opposition held several rounds of talks, the consensus was reached over a mixed electoral system with a more proportional distribution of mandates.[52]

On 11 January 2021, amidst the 2020–2021 Georgian political crisis, Ivanishvili announced that he was decisively leaving politics and resigned as Chairman of Georgian Dream, stating that "he had accomplished his goal".[53]

Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement, was accused of organizing mass violence during the 2019 protests. When Melia declined to pay a US$12,000 bail, a Georgian court ruled that Melia should be detained before his trial. In response, Melia said the court's ruling was "unlawful", and on 18 February 2021, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned over the disagreement with his party colleagues on enforcing an arrest order for him, saying that the arrest would be "untimely" and would only further exacerbate political crisis.[54] The Parliament voted to replace Gakharia with Irakli Garibashvili, who was considered to be a close ally of Bidzina Ivanishvili, which led to speculations whether Ivanishvili continued to influence politics behind the scenes.

On 7 June 2021, in his first letter after leaving politics, Ivanishvili criticized Gakharia for his sudden resignation and departure from Georgian Dream for "an unheard-of reason – not to exercise the rule of law”, and labelled Gakharia's decision as treason to the ruling party and the country.[55]

Controversies

Alleged influence on Georgian government

In November 2013, Ivanishvili resigned as Prime Minister of Georgia and left all political positions, claiming that his intention was to return to civil sector. Even though he has not held any official post since 2013, it is alleged that Ivanishvili continues to influence the government of Georgia and govern the country behind the scenes. Ivanishvili's resignation has been criticized by his opponents as a move to avoid the responsibilities and duties of holding office.[56] A study published by Transparency International Georgia in 2015 revealed based on public officials’ asset declarations that 38 officials have in the past worked in companies associated with Bidzina Ivanishvili, many of whom currently hold political office. While not a violation of the law, it is often cited as an evidence of Ivanishvili's alleged informal influence on the government. it is speculated that Ivanishvili's company employees were appointed on high-ranking positions because of their loyalty to Ivanishvili. The ruling Georgian Dream party is allegedly financially dependent on Ivanishvili, while some speculate that no key decisions are made without him or his instruction. Some former or current members of the government confirmed that some decisions are being made directly with the participation of Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili himself has said that there are cases when he is consulted, although his advices might or might not be taken into account.[57]

Lithuanian MEPs Andrius Kubilius and Rasa Juknevičienė accused Ivanishvili of the "oligarchisation" of Georgia, and political polarisation as a result.[58] The European Parliament has also described Ivanishvili as an oligarch, describing him as having a "destructive" role in Georgia's politics and economy.[59] European Council has listed "de-oligarchization" among 12 recommendations in order for the country to be granted status as a candidate for accession to the European Union. MEP Rasa Juknevičienė in her speech in the European Parliament has stated that ""De-oligarchization" means "de-Bidzinization" or "de-Ivanishvilization" of Georgia".[60]

Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili denounced accusations of Ivanishvili's "so-called oligarchic rule" as "complete farce and absurdity". He noted that several members of the ruling team are former employees of Cartu Group owned by Ivanishvili and entered Georgian politics under his leadership, although they were chosen on their positions because they are integral members of Georgian Dream who joined the party from the beginning and proved their professionalism. He also added that the positions of Minister of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Finance, and Health are occupied by people with no connection to Ivanishvili. Garibashvili stated that his and Ivanishvili's families are connected through friendship and he sees nothing shameful in this. He also emphasized the special role of Ivanishvili for the Georgian Dream as its founder, although noted that he is not involved in making key decisions. Former Prime Ministers Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Giorgi Gakharia have also denied allegations about the interference of Bidzina Ivanishvili in the affairs of the Prime Minister, even after the latter joined the opposition.[61][62]

Allegations of authoritarianism and corruption

Georgia under Georgian Dream has experienced democratic backsliding and state capture,[6][7][8][9] claiming Ivanishivili's involvement based on his alleged influence on government and role as a de facto leader of Georgian Dream.[6] Transparency International has accused Georgian Dream under Ivanishvili's de facto leadership of "solidifying its grasp on the judiciary and law enforcement bodies."[63] Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream have denied the accusations, instead saying that they have "restored freedom and democracy" to Georgia, pointing out to the fact that Georgia's score in the Democracy Index has been the highest under Ivanishvili's government (5.95 in 2013), and Georgia's score under Georgian Dream has always been higher than its score before 2012. Georgian Dream has pointed to the end of the Prosecutor's Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs as a "repressive mechanism" under former president Mikheil Saakashvili, as well as saying that Georgia has made "unprecedented" progress.[64]

Freedom House has accused Ivanishvili of playing a role in vote buying, corruption, including an instance in which four million face masks were produced for an Ivanishvili-owned foundation.[65] According to the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Georgia has a score of 55 points, placing it at a leading position in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. However, it was noted that the score, as well as anti-corruption efforts as a whole, have stagnated in the country.[66] Ivanishvili himself has claimed that Georgian Dream has achieved significant success in eliminating corruption.[67]

Alleged ties to Russian oligarchs

Ivanishvili allegedly maintains close business connections with Russian oligarchs, including individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, although Ivanishvili himself denounced such accusations. On 25 April 2022, two recordings were uploaded on YouTube by a channel under the name of Cyber Kmara, purportedly of a call between Ivanishvili and Vladimir Yevtushenkov about possible business dealings amidst the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Also implicated in the calls was Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, with Ivanishvili saying in the recording, "He is young and will take care of everything. I told him what to do and they are probably already meeting each other."[68] Several members of Georgian Dream claimed that the recordings were faked, while others said that they don't see a problem with economic dealings between two private citizens.

Ivanishvili was accused of helping Yevtushenkov evade Western sanctions by the opposition, with UNM General Secretary Petre Tsiskarishvili speculating on the possibility of Western sanctions on Ivanishvili. Opposition party Lelo for Georgia expressed concern about Garibashvili's involvement, demanding that he disclose relation about meeting with Russian envoys.[68] Davyd Arakhamia, leader of the Ukrainian political party Servant of the People, urged EU and US leadership to consider imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili.[69]

2022 EU sanctions threat

On 9 June 2022, the European Parliament issued a six-page resolution accusing the government of Georgia and Ivanishvili of eroding press freedom in the country. The resolution also described Ivanishvili as having "personal and business links to the Kremlin", and recommended that the European Union sanction Ivanishvili for "his role in the deterioration of the political process in Georgia."[70] The resolution had a significant impact in Georgia, coming amidst a request for European Union candidate status.

Shekvetili Dendrological Park

In addition to his interests in collecting animals, Ivanishvili has developed international notoriety for his collection of rare trees. The 60-hectare Shekvetili Dendrological Park, located in Shekvetili on Georgia's Black Sea coast, contains 200 species of imported trees and 58 exotic bird species, including flamingos and pelicans. The Dendrological Park, which began work in 2016, was opened to the public in 2020.[71] Ivanishvili's actions have been met with protests from environmentalists and his political opponents, who have contended that his actions have destroyed topsoil and caused environmental devastation. This is because many of the trees at the park have been collected from places around the Georgian coast paying the landowners to allow them to dug-up and moved by raft along the coastal waters to the park. Some of the trees are often over 100 years old. The process can take months and has involved in some areas removing many other trees and building roads to create access route. The allegations of destruction include causing significant disturbance, soil damage, rock damage, denuding the landscape, and tree loss.[72] The process of removing trees from elsewhere to the Park has been documented by the 2021 Georgian film Taming the Garden by Salomé Jashi.

2016 tulip tree movement controversy

In March 2016, Ivanishvili attracted international controversy for uprooting and relocating a 100 year-old tulip tree to the Shekvetili Dendrological Park. The tree, which weighed 650 tonnes, was transported from Georgia's Adjara region to the park, in an event that brought international attention to his activities. The event went viral on Georgian social media, with one user calling it "surreal."[73] Environmental activist Nata Peradze lambasted the move, saying, "There are only a few dozen tulip trees in Georgia and this majestic 135-year-old specimen has zero chances of surviving replanting,"[74] while opposition television presenter Tamara Chergoleishvili mocked his interests in exotic flora and fauna by joking, "If he gets fanatically obsessed about gigantic mountains, then it will become a real headache for his people."[73]

Wealth

In March 2010, Ivanishvili ranked 173 in 2010 Forbes List of Billionaires, with a reported net worth of US$4.8 billion.[75] The following year he ranked 185 in the 2011 Forbes List with a reported net worth of US$5.5 billion.[76] In March 2012, Ivanishvili was ranked at number 153 in Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's billionaires with an estimated worth of $6.4 billion, making him Georgia's richest person.[76] His total net worth is one third of Georgia's gross domestic product.[77] Ivanishvili's immense wealth and political positions have led to unfavourable comparisons to United States President Donald Trump.[78] Ivanishvili appeared in the Panama Papers, Pandora Papers, and Suisse secrets.[79][80][81]

Forbes's has described the secret to his success as, "[buying] firms not needed by anybody for tens of millions of dollars and sold them for billions of dollars." In 1990, Ivanishvili and Malkin established Rossiysky Kredit, now Ivanishvili's biggest holding. Over the years, he has sold other businesses accumulated by him during the privatization era in Russia, investing the proceeds in the Russian stock market.[citation needed]

Ivanishvili has also invested money into hotels, including Hotel Lux, and in a Russian chain of drugstores known as "Doctor Stoletov".[82] He has also purchased four properties in downtown Moscow for the construction of a luxury hotel.[83]

Charity

Ivanishvili's business centre and residence

Bidzina Ivanishvili, together with his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze, founded the Cartu International Charity Foundation in 1995.[84] The Ivanishvili family is the only donor of the foundation, and its projects were implemented with the finances of the foundation. The Cartu Foundation has invested into various projects, such as the arts,[85][86] sports,[87] agriculture,[88] and infrastructure.[89][90]

Animals

Ivanishvili is known as a collector of exotic animals, among them sharks, lemurs, and a kangaroo. Amidst the 2012 parliamentary election, his animal collection attracted attention, with a headline from The New Republic being titled, "Georgia’s Next Leader May Be a Billionaire Zookeeper with Albino Rapper Children."[91]

Personal life

Ivanishvili's residence in Tbilisi, designed by Shin Takamatsu.

Ivanishvili owns several estates, including a mansion above Tbilisi which is worth an estimated US$50 million and specially designed for him by Russian architect Mikhail Khazanov and finished by famous Japanese architect Shin Takamatsu.[92]

Ivanishvili is also known by the Russian first name Boris, which he previously used while working in Russia. He was widely reported under that name in the West. However, he went back to his Georgian first name Bidzina in 2011.[citation needed]

Recently Ivanishvili became the subject of some interest in the art world, following his reported purchases of works by Pablo Picasso[93] and the contemporary artist Peter Doig at international auctions. Ivanishvili bought Niko Pirosmani's Arsenal Hill at Night, paying a record US$1.5 million for a painting by a Georgian artist. He then donated the painting to the State Museum of Arts of Georgia.[76]

Ivanishvili married Ekaterine "Eka" Khvedelidze in October 1991.[94] They have four children together: sons Uta, Bera (who is a well-known singer and rapper in Georgia) and Tsotne, and a daughter, Gvantsa; Bera and Tsotne both have albinism.[95]

Citizenship

Ivanishvili was granted Georgian citizenship by Saakashvili. In March 2010, Ivanishvili additionally attained French citizenship.[96] In October 2011, he was deprived of his Georgian citizenship "according to Article 32 of the Georgian Law on Citizenship" (which lists grounds for loss of citizenship including "accept[ing] citizenship of another state"),[97] shortly after he had announced his intention to form a political party to challenge Saakashvili.

Honours

Foreign honours

Notes

  1. ^ Russian: Борис Григо́рьевич Иванишви́ли

References

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See also

External links

Political offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of Georgia
2012–2013
Succeeded by