Kakha Bendukidze: Businessman and statesman who fell foul of Vladimir Putin but rescued Georgia’s post-Soviet economy

‘Right now the Russian authorities do not need such talented people,’ said Boris Berezovsky

Eve Thomas
Sunday 23 November 2014 13:50 GMT
Bendukidze: he was in line for a key post in Georgia at the time of his death
Bendukidze: he was in line for a key post in Georgia at the time of his death (AFP/Getty)

The Georgian businessman and statesman Kakha Bendukidze was the architect of the former Soviet republic’s liberal economic reforms and a fierce anti-corruption crusader. He was found dead in his hotel room in London following heart surgery in Switzerland.

Born in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in the old Soviet Union, he graduated in biology and went on to found Bioprocess, a company manufacturing biochemicals for scientific research, in 1987, and acquired a stake in Uralmash, a firm producing heavy machinery. After the end of communism he forged a reputation as one of Russia’s leading libertarians, leading a working group on tax and currency which pushed for a flat 13 per cent tax rate.

He was strongly opposed to the Russian government intervening in the economy, a position that set him squarely against President Vladimir Putin who was tightened his grip on strategic industries. Boris Berezovsky observd at the time, “Bendukidze does not belong to Putin’s circle of friends and he understood sooner than everyone else that everything would be taken away from him... Bendukidze by far hasn’t exhausted his potential but right now the Russian authorities do not need such talented people.”

Bendukidze sold his stake in Uralmash and moved back to Georgia, where, following the Rose Revolution and the removal of Eduard Shevardnadze, he was appointed as Minister of Economics, going on to serve as Minister for Reform Coordination and Head of the Government Chancellery. He introduced several liberal reforms that overhauled Georgia’s post-Soviet economy, encouraging economic growth and bringing in nearly four times as much foreign investments as had previously been the case. The country developed what it had never had before – a middle class.

He held various government posts until 2009, when he began investing in the education sector, founding the Free University, which has since become one of the country’s most effective institutes of higher education.

Mikheil Saakashvili, who replaced Shevardnadze as president, said Bendukidze was in the midst of negotiating to take a “key government post” in Ukraine at the time of his death. “He believed that by helping Ukraine he serves the Georgian cause,” he said.

Kakha Bendukidze, businessman and statesman: born Tbilisi, Georgia 20 April 1956; died London 13 November 2014.

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