(Updates with comment from analyst starting in fourth paragraph.)
Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Georgia revoked the citizenship of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who last week announced plans to create an opposition party to challenge President Mikheil Saakashvili.
“He was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004, but then obtained French citizenship,” Justice Ministry spokeswoman Khatuna Iosava said by telephone in the capital Tbilisi today, referring to Ivanishvili. “In accordance with the law on Georgian citizenship and the country’s constitution, his citizenship is now terminated.”
Ivanishvili, a Rossiiskiy Kredit Bank board member, has squabbled publicly with Saakashvili in recent months. In May, Ivanishvili accused the president of orchestrating a smear campaign against him by spreading rumors that he was bankrolling the government. On Oct. 7, he said he’d create a political party to contest the 2012 parliamentary election.
The timing of today’s announcement “will likely trigger speculation that the motives are political in nature, whatever the legal circumstances may be,” said Lawrence Sheets, Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group in Tbilisi.
“In Western capitals, Georgia’s upcoming elections are going to be watched very closely and the conduct of them will largely determine how the country is perceived, as becoming more democratic or less,” Sheets said.
Half of Georgian GDP
Elza Nabakhteveli, a spokeswoman for Ivanishvili, declined to comment on the ministry’s statement when contacted by Bloomberg News.
Forbes magazine in March estimated Ivanishvili’s wealth at $5.5 billion, equal to almost half of Georgia’s $11.7 billion economy. Nabakhteveli said in May that the Forbes estimate is accurate and that he holds about one-third of his assets in Russia and the remainder in market investments abroad. Ivanishvili lives primarily in his native village, Chorvila.
A spokesman for Ivanishvili, Irakli Triploski, said by telephone late yesterday that the billionaire had been invited to appear on Georgian state television and would consider the offer.
Khatuna Berdzenishvili, head of the news department at Georgian Public Broadcasting, said Ivanishvili would only be given airtime if he agreed to answer questions in person.
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