Georgian billionaire comes out fighting

From rich recluse to political force, Bidzina Ivanishvili has vowed to oust the President

Moscow

A reclusive, eccentric billionaire has stepped out of the shadows and vowed to topple the regime of the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili.

For years, Georgians have known little about Bidzina Ivanishvili, who until last week had only ever given one interview, despite being one of the richest men in the world. The tycoon, who made his fortune in Russia, lives in a custom-built contemporary castle on the outskirts of Tbilisi and is rumoured to keep a retinue of pet zebras.

He was also known for his philanthropy, and for personally funding hundreds, if not thousands, of Georgian artists and intellectuals. But he hated all publicity, and it was widely assumed that he had no political ambitions.

Until now. In a rambling open letter addressed to Mr Saakashvili and the Georgian people, Mr Ivanishvili threw down the gauntlet to the country's pro-Western president two weeks ago. He said he was dismayed at the state of Georgian politics, and had twice resolved to emigrate for good. "I managed to overcome this fear, doubt and scepticism in myself," the billionaire wrote. "Now it's your turn."

The charismatic Mr Saakashvili came to power in the bloodless Rose Revolution of 2003, promising to end Soviet-era corruption and dictatorship and make Georgia a European democracy. The country did change radically, with drastic reforms of the economy and police, but critics say Mr Saakashvili always had an autocratic streak.

Constitutionally, he must step down when his second term ends in early 2013, but there is speculation that he may be preparing to emulate the political course of his nemesis, Vladimir Putin, and move to a newly strengthened prime-ministerial role.

"I know that he wants to stay in power," Mr Ivanishvili said in an interview after his letter was published. "We should not allow that." He said he would link up with certain existing opposition forces and expected to become the largest grouping in the Georgian parliament.

Mr Ivanishvili's unexpected entry into the political fray has prompted what appears to be a well orchestrated campaign against him in recent days. He was stripped of his Georgian passport, on the grounds that he had acquired French citizenship. Georgian television, largely state controlled, has sought to portray him as an agent of the Kremlin, and one of his Georgian banks has been raided amid accusations of money laundering.

The billionaire insisted he was not a Kremlin stooge, and said he wanted to "astonish Europe with the level of democracy" he planned to create in the country.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Start a Career as a Financial Markets Trader

£40000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Become a professional Trader a...

Recruitment Genius: Software Implementation Consultant

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Recruitment Genius: Service Desk Co-ordinator / Client Services Administrator

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Warehouse Assistant

£14807 - £15470 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manufacturer and supplier ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks