Georgian tycoon is found dead in Britain

The Baltimore Sun

LONDON -- Badri Patarkatsishvili, a tycoon and opposition leader from the nation of Georgia who had often claimed that his enemies were out to kill him, was found dead at his home outside London, police said yesterday.

British police said the death of Patarkatsishvili, 52, was "suspicious" and a special-crimes team was investigating. The body was taken for postmortem and toxicology tests, but no results were expected before today.

Patarkatsishvili, a bitter enemy of U.S.-backed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, died at his lavish home in Surrey, a wealthy commuter area where he had taken up residence with his wife. His body was found late Tuesday.

In Georgia, Patarkatsishvili's allies called for a thorough investigation, with some of them openly blaming the government for the death. Whatever the results of the autopsy, the death of Patarkatsishvili is sure to deepen already intense resentments between the government and opposition.

"Even if the death resulted from natural causes, Saakashvili will still bear a significant share of guilt because it is clear to all that Patarkatsishvili's heart came under very severe stress resulting from the fierce political fight and the fact that he was hounded out of the country like a criminal," Ramaz Sakvarelidze, an independent analyst based in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, said in a telephone interview. "So in any case, the moral damage to Saakashvili is already immense."

In an online statement issued last night, the Georgian president offered his condolences to the tycoon's family: "Regardless of the fact that Badri Patarkatsishvili was accused in grave crime against the state, every person's death is a great tragedy."

Patarkatsishvili, who seemed to exist in the epicenter of perpetual intrigue, had fled political backbiting and criminal charges back in Georgia. He was wanted at home on suspicion of plotting a coup to overthrow the government. He was wanted in Russia on accusations of arranging the 2001 failed escape from custody of a former Aeroflot official.

Having made a fortune in businesses in Georgia and Russia, Patarkatsishvili was an ardent supporter of the 2003 Rose Revolution, the wave of street protests that swept out a Russia-backed government and installed Saakashvili. But as relations soured between the Georgian president and many of his former allies, the tycoon drifted to the opposition.

Janet Stobart and Megan K. Stack write for the Los Angeles Times.

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