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CAUCASUS > Georgia fines tycoon $90 million

TBILISI

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Bidzina Ivanishvili is accused of handing out free satellite dishes. EPA photo

Bidzina Ivanishvili is accused of handing out free satellite dishes. EPA photo

A court in the Georgian capital has ordered a billionaire businessman who formed an opposition party to pay $91 million in fines in a ruling that the tycoon’s lawyers called political.

The Tbilisi City Court ruled late June 11 that Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man and leading philanthropist, violated the law by handing out free satellite dishes and offering a fleet of cars owned by his companies to potential voters. Ivanishvili’s lawyer Eka Beselia said the court’s decision was politically motivated. Ivanishvili made his entry into politics in October, announcing that he was forming a political party with the aim of winning the parliamentary vote set for the fall and assuming the post of prime minister in a challenge to President Mikhail Saakashvili.

With a fortune estimated at $6.4 billion, he is expected to launch an appeal. The formerly reclusive businessman’s decision to challenge the powerful Saakashvili has revitalized the country’s opposition, although opinion polls suggest that his alliance trails the governing party. He has made a series of populist promises, vowing to cut unemployment, raise pensions and improve social welfare, and has blamed Saakashvili for the impoverished Caucasus country’s problems.

But Saakashvili’s allies have accused the tycoon, who made his fortune in Russia, of being a stooge for Georgia’s enemies in Moscow, which fought a brief war with

Tbilisi in 2008. Ivanishvili was stripped of his Georgian passport for violating citizenship laws after announcing his decision to enter politics last year.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.

June/13/2012

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