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28 Feb, 2008 16:23

Georgian tycoon laid to rest in Tbilisi

Thousands of mourners have payed their last respects to Georgian tycoon and opposition leader Badri Patarkatsishvili. Around 50 business partners and friends flew from Moscow to the Georgian capital Tiblisi for his funeral.

The 52-year-old died two weeks ago at his London home.

According to British investigators, the death was caused by heart disease although full toxicological results are expected within eight weeks.

Patarkatsishvili's body was flown to Georgia on Tuesday.

Political leaders, friends and family solemnly attended the emotional funeral service.

Among the mourners was Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II, former president Shevardnadze, and the wife of self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a close friend and business partner of Patarkatsishvili.

British police initially treated the billionaire’s death as suspicious, but a post mortem examination revealed that he had suffered from a severe heart disease and could have died at any time. The results of toxicology tests are expected soon.

Patarkatsishvili was engaged in a bitter struggle with the government of President Mikhail Saakashvili, who he stood against in recent elections.

Opposition activists say the strain of this conflict could have contributed to his death.

“Whatever was the real cause of his death, I believe there's not one person in the world who could have overcome the accusations and the false guilt presented on him,” Tina Khidasheli, opposition leader said.

Patarkatsishvili was believed to be Georgia's richest man. He was also one of the country's most controversial figures.

After returning to Georgia from Russia, where he faced fraud charges, the billionaire invested heavily in oil and banking. He also founded Imedi TV which became the country's most popular channel.

Following violent protests in November, he was accused by the authorities of using the channel to attempt to overthrow the government.

In January the government released recordings in which Patarkatsishvili was heard to offer an interior ministry employee $ US 100 million for his help in fomenting unrest.

He was charged with plotting a coup, and never returned to Georgia alive.

“Politics has already contributed to the death of the head of the family, so the rest of the family are not going to get involved in politics. They will continue Badri's philanthropic works to keep his name alive,” Gocha Jojua, a political associate says.

In spite of recent scandals surrounding Patarkatsishvili, he was a hero to many.

As his coffin was carried in front of the waiting mourners, the crowd broke into a spontaneous round of applause.