Saakashvili critic`s death `suspicious`

Georgia Materials 14 February 2008 00:54 (UTC +04:00)

( RT ) - The death of a Georgian billionaire and government critic is being treated as suspicious by British police. 52-year-old Badri Patarkatsishvili died at his home near London on Tuesday night. He was accused of plotting a coup last year before running against President Saakashvili in January`s election.

Patarkatsishvili's family say he died of a heart attack.

However, the Surrey police, who are investigating the case, say they treat all unexpected deaths as suspicious until they can prove otherwise.

The police say no radioactive substances have been involved in Patarkatsishvili's death. They have been on alert over the possibility of the use of radioactive materials after the murder of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in London two years ago.

Meantime, Patarkatsishvili's body has been removed for post mortem which is expected to reveal the cause of death.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has expressed his condolence to the family of the businessman.

Patarkatsishvili's personal doctor has reportedly told Ria Novosti that he suffered no heart-related diseases.

"Badri Patarkatsishvili's death was confirmed today by his friend Boris Berezovsky. I don't know if he was killed or died from natural causes. But I know one thing for sure - the government was responsible for his death," Gogi Tsulaula, a member of 'Our Georgia' party, said.

Georgian rebel minister Irakly Okruashvili says the death looks suspicious to him.

"I would like to wait for an official comment. It seems strange that so many deaths are happening in February. I have not contacted Patarkatsishvili personally for five months and I regret this," Okruashvili said.

Badri Patarkatsishvili made a fortune and a name for himself during his business ventures with Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.

In 1992, Patarkatsishvili became a Deputy Director General of the Logovaz Group.

In 2006 he sold 100% of his share of the Russian Kommersant editorial house to Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov.

Patarkatsishvili played a key role in the Georgian opposition. In 2007 he became embroiled in a major political scandal in the country and was accused of plotting a coup against President Mikhail Saakashvili's government.

He had remained in London ever since.

"Now most of the opponents of Saakashvili's regime are either in prison or in exile or hiding somewhere," Vyacheslav Nikonov, the President of the Russian Political Foundation, said.

Patarkatsishvili was wanted in Russia for his part in an attempted jail break of ex-vice General Director of Aeroflot, Nikolay Glushkov.

On December 23 an article in the British Times claimed the Georgian tycoon feared for his life. The paper quoted an audio-tape with a conversation, which allegedly took place between the intended hitman and an official from the Georgian Interior Ministry.The Times said Patarkatsishvili alerted police to the supposed plot.

Russia's State Duma deputy and Britain's main suspect in the poisoning of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in 2006, Andrey Lugovoy, said the death of Patarkatsishvili is a great loss.

"I knew him for over 15 years and as far as I know he didn't have any major health problems. All this is strange but you never know what life can bring," he said.

"I think that his death, the heart attack that he had, is possibly connected with what's been going on with Georgia over the past two or three months. It might have affected his health. He was a real patriot," Lugovoy stressed.

Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze also says the death of Badri Patarkatsishvili is a big loss for Georgia.

"I knew him for a long time. He is not the sort of man to be involved in a murder or a coup. Of course, his death will raise suspicions; he was not an old man," he said.

According to Shevardnadze, there will be opposition rallies tomorrow.

"This is not surprising. They'll of course accuse the government," Shevardnadze said.

"I think if the opposition speaks out about the sudden death of Badri, they have reasons to do this. We have lost not only an outstanding businessman, but a person who's established a fund for the poor, he helped a lot," he added.

Patarkatsishvili was born in Tbilisi in 1955 and graduated from Georgia's State Polytechnic Institute.

Badri Patarkatsishvili is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Konstantin Kosachev, State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman, says it's important to avoid any guesswork, and wait for the results of the investigation.

"I do believe that some motivation for such a development may be theoretically found in some other countries, including Georgia, including Great Britain, where some Patarkatsishvili's partners, namely Berezovsky, are resided," he said.

"What is most important right now is to restrain from any speculations on this tragedy, to wait for the results of the investigation, which is being conducted right now by British authorities and to resume these discussions when the conclusions are made," Kosachev stressed.

The death of Badri Patarkatsishvili is not the first suspicious death in Georgian politics.

One of the leaders of Georgia's Rose Revolution and the country's former Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania was found dead in early 2005. His body was discovered in the home of a colleague in Georgia, slumped in an armchair in the kitchen.

Police claimed Zhvania died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to an inadequately ventilated gas heater. Although his death was ruled accidental, Zhvania's family continues to question the results of the investigation.