Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died at the age of 52, amassed fortune in Russia in the 1990s. He first came to public attention in Georgia in 2001 when President Shevardnadze refused to extradite him to Russia after Moscow had charged Patarkatsishvili with organizing the attempted jailbreak of the former first vice-president of Aeroflot airlines.
Patarkatsishvili subsequently invested heavily in Georgia, buying shares in independent media outlets and real estate and establishing a charity organization. He also became the president of the Georgian Olympic Committee and head of the Federation of Georgian Businessmen (after the November events he was forced to quit these positions). In 2002 Patarkatsishvili bought a state-owned Wedding Palace, a marriage ceremony centre, and turned this huge building overlooking Tbilisi into his home. It was also his campaign headquarters, when he ran for the presidency in the January 5 election.
Although he was never openly engaged in politics before the November events, local media sources regularly hinted at Patarkatsishvili’s hidden hand trying to influence the political process. The first such report emerged in November 2001, when Patarkatsishvili allegedly tried to have Vazha Lortkipanidze appointed Parliamentary Chairman.
Because Patarkatsishvili was wanted in Russia, his position in Georgia was always precarious, and so maintaining good relations with the political elite was a major priority for him. In 2003 Patarkatsishvili indicated he would finance a party led by Zurab Zhvania and Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze, and the New Rights Party. Prior to the November 2003 parliamentary elections he said he would financially back then President Shevardnadze’s ruling party. Both the opposition and the authorities, it seems, were the beneficiaries of his largesse.
Following the Rose Revolution, he initially curried favour with the Saakashvili administration, especially so with then Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.
Relations, however, were soon to sour. In April 2005, a few months after Zhvania’s death, Patarkatsishvili criticized the authorities for abolishing Tax Arbitration Councils, which were viewed by the business community as indispensable in resolving tax disputes with the state.
Major conflict came a year later. In March 2006, Patarkatsishvili publicly accused the authorities of mounting pressure on his television station, Imedi TV, and of extorting money from businesses. The move was largely perceived by many commentators at the time as a signal of a major realignment in the Georgian political landscape. A year later Patarkatsishvili publicly announced his willingness to finance anti-government opposition protest rallies. He also indicated he himself would enter the political fray.
After the November 7 events, the Georgian General Prosecutor’s Office said that Patarkatsishvili was suspected of conspiring to overthrow the government.
Patarkatsishvili was a candidate in the January 5 presidential election. In December the Georgian authorities released compromising video and audio tapes implicating him and his allies in an alleged coup plot. The audio tapes purported to show Patarkatsishvili offering USD 100 million to a top Interior Ministry official, Irakli Kodua, in exchange for – among other things – “neutralizing” Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. Patarkatsishvili confirmed that he had offered a bribe to Kodua, but said his intention was to prevent the use of force by the police in the event of protest rallies following the presidential election. He denied plotting a coup.
Patarkatsishvili was actually charged by the General Prosecutor’s Office on January 10 with conspiring to overthrow the government and plotting and planning two separate “terrorist acts”, one of which was allegedly aimed at Merabishvili. He was then remanded in custody for two months by Tbilisi City Court – in absentia – on January 15.
News broke on February 13 that Patarkatsishvili had died in Britain, where he had been spending most of his time of late. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.