Business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili will return to Georgia to launch his presidential election campaign only if additional security guarantees are given by the authorities, a Patarkatsishvili campaign official said on December 14.
MP Valery Gelbakhiani, representing the Patarkatsishvili campaign, said at a news conference that Patarkatsishvili had planned to arrive in Tbilisi on December 14, but “because the authorities stubbornly refuse to create appropriate conditions for the candidate to run his campaign,” his arrival had been postponed. Patarkatsishvili currently spends most of his time between London and Israel.
Although the Georgian General Prosecutor’s Office suspects Patarkatsishvili of conspiring to overthrow the government, he has immunity as a presidential candidate. The Central Election Commission (CEC) can, however, remove this immunity if prosecutors provide justified reasons for doing so.
The authorities have already refused to grant any additional guarantees to Patarkatsishvili, arguing that he, like any other candidate, already has immunity. Justice Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said additional security guarantees could legally not be offered, and the demand for them was, in any case, no more than a Patarkatsishvili "pre-election stunt."
The Patarkatsishvili campaign specifically wants a public statement from either Acting President Nino Burjanadze or the General Prosecutor’s Office, guaranteeing that the business and media tycoon would not be arrested.
Although the government maintains such a guarantee is legally impossible, a similar guarantee was actually given to opposition presidential candidate Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of the Labor Party. Natelashvili, following the November unrest, had faced charges of espionage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
Before stepping down as President, Mikheil Saakashvili, however, said on November 10 that Natelashvili would not be arrested and he could freely run for the presidency. On the same day, the General Prosecutor’s Office, having previously said the Labor leader would be charged, softened its stance, saying investigators only wanted to question Natelashvili as a witness. He was, they said, no longer a suspect. Natelashvili subsequently came out of hiding and announced his intention to run for the presidency.
In an interview with the Georgian daily Rezonansi (Resonance) on December 14, MP Gelbakhiani said Patarkatsishvili wanted a similar guarantee.