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Ukraine sanctions Ivanishvili’s relatives and ‘business partners’

21 October 2022
Bidzina Ivanishvili. Background image: kyivcity.gov.ua

Ukraine has sanctioned four close relatives of the billionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party and former prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has sanctioned relatives of Georgian ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and several Georgian businesspersons, according to a decree dated 19 October.

A list of 256 individuals identified for sanctions by Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council includes the former PM’s brother, Aleksandre Ivanishvili, Aleksandre’s spouse, Ketevan Kharaidze, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s cousin, Ucha Mamatsashvili, and Mamatsashvili’s son, Tate Mamatsashvili.

The list of those sanctioned also includes Russia-based Georgian businesspeople Davit Iakobashvili, Aleksandre Japaridze, and Giorgi Japaridze.

According to the decree, Tate Mamatsashvili, Aleksandre Japaridze, and Giorgi Japaridze are Russian nationals while Iakobashvili holds Russian and Swedish citizenship. 

Soon after the news broke, Ucha Mamatsashvili’s lawyer, described Ukraine’s decision to sanction him and his son as ‘political speculation that lacked any factual or legal basis’. 

The sanctioning implies the freezing of assets in Ukraine and a ban on commercial transactions in the country for those included. The Ukrainian authorities did not provide any information on what, if any, assets the sanctioned individuals held in Ukraine. 

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The ‘special economic and other restrictive measures’ imposed on the individuals by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, which were greenlit by President Zelensky on Wednesday, instruct Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry to advocate for similar sanctions from the European Union, the US, and ‘other states’. 

‘That’s right, the de facto ruler of Georgia had eight months to choose a side. Bidzina missed’, tweeted Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko on Thusday, in an apparent reference to the period since Russia began its war against Ukraine. 

Why them? 

In September, Ukraine’s government-run anti-corruption database, ‘War and Sanctions’, added several Georgian nationals to a list of people ‘awaiting sanctions’ for their alleged ties to Russia and its military campaign against Ukraine. 

On Wednesday, Ukraine sanctioned only some of those, sparing others, including Bidzina Ivanishvili himself.

[Read on OC Media: European Parliament calls for sanctions to be considered on Ivanishvili

Wednesday’s decree does not provide reasons for the sanctioning of any of those named, but the War and Sanctions database entries suggest Ivanishvili is the factor connecting all of them. 

The database claims that Aleksandre Ivanishvili, ‘brother of… the so-called “informal ruler of Georgia” ’, has lobbied for one of the richest people in Russia to avoid sanctions against the Russian Federation, and has business ties with the ‘Russian political elite’ through his wife, Ketevan Kharaidze. 

It also notes that Tate Mamatsashvili is the founder of Geo Organics, a company that it alleges is a significant source of income for the Russian Government. 

Ucha Mamatsashvili. Image via Forbes

Tate’s father, Ucha Mamatsashvili, was briefly a member of Georgian Dream’s political council. He also has close business ties to Ivanishvili, having been deputy director of the state investment company, the Partnership Fund, and a shareowner of the Georgian Co-Investment Fund, both linked to Ivanishvili. 

Russian business and sanctioned cargo

Similar allegations have been made by civil society groups and Georgian opposition figures. An April report from watchdog group Transparency International Georgia (TI) exposed Aleksandre Ivanishvili, his spouse, and Ucha Mamatsashvili and his son as having shared business interests with the former governor of Saint Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, and other Russian individuals, through Geo Organics. 

TI also questioned Bidzina Ivanishvili’s claim to have had no business interests in Russia for years by pointing out that in 2012–2019, Ivanishvili ‘continued to own at least 10 Russian companies through offshore entities… which further branched out into an even wider network of subsidiaries’.

‘As of today, Ivanishvili owns at least one company in Russia (Aqua-Space Ltd) through one of his offshore companies’.

TI have also previously noted Davit Iakobashvili’s ties to both Bidzina Ivanishvili and Davit Kezerashvili, the former Georgian Defence Minister and current owner of opposition-leaning TV channel Formula.

In June, Georgian opposition leader Elene Khoshtaria accused Iakobashvili of being behind the transportation of ‘sanctioned’ cargo by Russian energy giant Rosneft to Batumi. The Georgian authorities confirmed the arrival of a ship with internationally sanctioned cargo but claimed they had immediately redirected it to its final destination, Turkey.

Khoshtaria, who swiftly welcomed Wednesday’s sanctions from Ukraine, claimed at the time that the route was pre-agreed between Bidzina Ivanishvili and Vladimir Yevtushenkov, an internationally-sanctioned Russian businessman.

In late April, two phone conversations between Bidzina Ivanishvili and Yevtushenkov were leaked on YouTube. The recordings suggested that the Russian oligarch sought assurances from Ivanishvili over unspecified business dealings in Georgia.

A long-running conflict

On 20 October, despite claiming since January last year that their founder was no longer involved in politics, leading Georgian Dream figures rushed to condemn the sanctioning of Ivanishvili’s relatives and the ‘pressure’ against him.

‘They’ve signalled that because we did not open a second front, this is a first step and later they might take others too’, Irakli Kobakhidze, chair of the ruling party, commented on Thursday.

In recent months, Georgian Dream have insisted that Ukrainian officials, some Western governments, and the local ‘radical’ opposition were conspiring to involve Georgia in war with Russia.

Part of this alleged international conspiracy was to ‘pressure’ Ivanishvili to return to politics. 

Irakli Kobakhidze. Image: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

On 20 October, Kobakhidze claimed that the man behind these recent sanctions was Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council. In late March, Danilov noted that if Georgia and Moldova tried to ‘reclaim their territories’ a reference to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria it would ‘help Ukraine a lot’.

While relations between the Ukrainian and Georgian governments have drastically deteriorated since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, antipathy had been building for years. The conflict has mostly related to former Georgian officials, some wanted by Georgian law, being appointed to government positions in Ukraine.

The roots of what later became a full-fledged conspiracy theory about a ‘second front of war’ in Georgia can be traced to the run-up to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, when Georgia’s ruling party were criticised for using the language of ‘appeasement’ with Russia. 

Despite Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili visiting Bucha and Irpin in April, relations have remained strained.

Georgian Dream leaders also condemned Aleksey Arestovich, an advisor to Zelensky, for recent remarks about ‘saving Georgians’ from Russia. 

‘We’ll be projecting force there [on Georgia]. We’re going to have to save Georgians, save Moldova, save Armenia, and save everyone. And that’s a good story because a million of our guys and girls who fought can get busy in the near future in the post-Soviet space’, Arestovich claimed, after criticising the ‘pro-Russian’ Georgian Government.