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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Richest Georgian Assails State

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia's richest man, Badri Patarkatsishvili, unexpectedly unleashed an attack on the business policies of President Mikheil Saakashvili's government, raising the possibility that he would enter the opposition's ranks -- and risk becoming a target of a state anti-corruption campaign.

Patarkatsishvili, an erstwhile business partner of businessman Boris Berezovsky, said Wednesday that businesses had been coerced into making contributions to various state-connected funds.

One such purported fund, run by the Prosecutor General's Office, had collected 160 million lari ($86.4 million) from Georgian businesses in what Patarkatsishvili termed a "serfs' tax."

The reaction from Saakashvili's supporters was swift. "I would like to thank Mr. Badri first of all for finally coming out of the shadows," said Giga Bokeria, a parliamentary leader. "We have seen the real leader of the opposition and its possible sponsor."

Patarkatsishvili's Imedi television has broadcast many critical stories about the Interior Ministry. One story -- about the killing of a student purportedly after an argument at a restaurant during a birthday party for Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili's wife -- prompted the resignation this month of three officers.

About 7,000 people, meanwhile, rallied Thursday in central Tbilisi to demand Merabishvili's resignation and a probe into a prison riot that killed seven inmates. The turnout fell far short of the 50,000 promised by opposition leaders.