Georgians Back Billionaire Ivanishvili With Their Pocketbooks

Georgian supporters of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili flocked to open accounts in his bank after police last month seized cash and detained suspects in a money- laundering probe.

Police on Oct. 19 seized “several million dollars and euros” from an armored delivery van belonging to Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank and detained at least six people. Depositors initially responded by pulling as much as $2 million out of the Tbilisi-based bank, according to Cartu President Nodar Javakhishvili, who called the confiscation “illegal.”

“It doesn’t matter that the new accounts are small,” Javakhishvili, who served as Georgia’s central bank governor in the 1990s, said by telephone in the capital Tbilisi today. “It’s about a public show of protest against what the government is doing.”

Elza Nabakhteveli, a spokeswoman for Ivanishvili, said as many as 2,000 new accounts had been opened as of yesterday. Cartu isn’t offering special incentives to lure new depositors, she said.

“ I went there with my wife and deposited 100 lari,” said Koba Chumburidze, a poet. “I even posted a picture of myself on Facebook with my Cartu bank book to encourage people to do the same.”

Inspectors from the National Bank of Georgia are conducting checks at Cartu. Governor Giorgi Kadagidze said on Oct. 20 that the central bank had “no intention” of closing Cartu down.

Smear Campaign

Ivanishvili, a Rossiiskiy Kredit Bank board member, was stripped of Georgian citizenship on Oct. 11, four days after he announced plans to create an opposition party to challenge President Mikheil Saakashvili.

In May, Ivanishvili accused the president of orchestrating a smear campaign against him by spreading rumors that he was bankrolling the government.

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 was accurate and that he held about one-third of his assets in Russia and the remainder in market investments abroad. Ivanishvili lives primarily in his native village, Chorvila.

To contact the reporter on this story: Helena Bedwell in Tbilisi at hbedwell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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