Georgia charges opposition tycoon Patarkatsishvili with coup bid

( RIA Novosti ) - Georgia's top prosecutors announced on Thursday that they had charged Badri Patarkatsishvili, a billionaire businessman and a leading opposition figure, of plotting a coup in the tiny ex-Soviet republic.

The billionaire's account at Georgia's Standartbank has been frozen, the Prosecutor General's Office said. He has also been charged with planning an attack on an unnamed politician and a terrorist attack.

The charges came days after the January 5 early presidential elections, in which Mikheil Saakashvili was reelected president, gaining just over 50% of the vote.

Patarkatsishvili won around 7%, and finished third. Another opposition figure, Levan Gachechiladze, took second place with 25.6%.

Georgian prosecutors said they would demand that Patarkatsishvili, who currently lives in London, appear at the prosecutor's office to hear the charges against him.

Georgia's richest man left the Caucasus state in early November, after speaking at a mass opposition rally in the capital, Tbilisi. After riot police had dispersed protesters demanding Saakashvili's resignation over corruption allegations, authorities accused Patarkatsishvili of attempting to instigate a coup.

In late December, authorities also broadcast audio and video recordings allegedly showing the businessman offering a $100 million bribe to a senior Interior Ministry official to "neutralize" the minister during protests allegedly planned for after the election in the case of a Saakashvili victory.

Patarkatsishvili has admitted attempting to bribe the official, but said he had only been trying to deter clashes between police and protestors.

The businessman's campaign headquarters in Tbilisi called the charges unsubstantiated on Thursday.

"The Prosecutor General's Office apparently based the charges against Patarkatsishvili on the audio and video recordings of his conversation with the Interior Ministry official," Shalva Khachapuridze said. "If so, these are insufficient grounds for such serious charges."

The opposition has claimed the election was rigged. Western monitors have admitted minor violations, but say the poll was legitimate. Russia has expressed doubts over the democratic nature of the polls.

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