Saakashvili Opponent Charged in Coup Plot

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian prosecutors on Thursday charged one of President Mikheil Saakashvili's most powerful opponents, Badri Patarkatsishvili, with plotting a coup and attempting to organize a terrorist attack.

The move, just days after Saakashvili won a presidential election the opposition said was rigged, could sideline the flamboyant tycoon from Georgian politics.

"Patarkatsishvili should come to the Prosecutor General's Office," Khatuna Tskhvediashvili, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor general, said by telephone.

She said the businessman's personal bank account had been frozen.

Patarkatsishvili, who left Georgia after mass opposition protests late last year, is currently in London, one of his advisers said.

The adviser declined to make any immediate comment when asked about the charges, which come after Saakashvili won the Jan. 5 presidential election he called after crushing opposition protests in November.

Patarkatsishvili, who ran against Saakashvili and won about 7 percent in last week's election, has previously accused the Georgian government of fabricating criminal charges to increase political pressure on him and his associates.

He has accused Saakashvili of pushing Georgia into dictatorship, a claim dismissed by Saakashvili's advisers.

The charges are related to an audio recording, broadcast on Georgian television, in which a man whose voice sounds like that of Patarkatsishvili can be heard offering a $100 million bribe to senior Interior Ministry official Irakly Kodua.

The man in the recording said he wanted Kodua to arrest Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and go on television alleging that the authorities had asked him to rig the results of the election.

Patarkatsishvili has not confirmed if his is the voice in the recording. Kodua said he had reported the conversations to the authorities.

A businessman who earned a fortune in Moscow as the Soviet Union crumbled, Patarkatsishvili initially supported Saakashvili when he came to power in 2003 on the back of the Rose Revolution protests.

But Patarkatsishvili later turned against him and played a key role in bankrolling the opposition, which he has said he will continue to finance. He has had ties to self-exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky.

Western monitors have said the Jan. 5 poll was slightly flawed but still competitive.