Badri Patarkatsishvili, Future Owner of Maariv?

How the darling of Tbilisi's business scene fled to London

Who is Badri Patarkatsishvili, who may soon own Maariv?

The Georgian billionaire is unknown in Israel, but his is a colorful story well worth the telling.

Let's start with the latest development, whcih is that yesterday Israel Land Development Corporation (TASE:  ILDC) advised the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that it is negotiating to sell Ma'ariv Holdings (TASE: MARV) to Patarkatsishvili, in parallel with negotiating the same deal with another billionaire, the American tycoon Sheldon Adelson. ILDC, which belongs to the Nimrodi family, clarified that the talks with Patarkatsishvili are in their infancy while negotiations with Adelson have reached an advanced stage.

That is the relevance to Israelis: Patarkatsishvili may soon control Israel's second most popular newspaper, Maariv.

Patarkatsishvili, 52, was born to an observant Jewish family in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, which is a former Soviet satellite state.

He himself religiously attended temple, but married a non-Jewish woman. The couple has two daughters, aged 24 and 27.

The Russian press describes Patarkatsishvili as being heavy (fat) and sporting a long mustache, a man who radiates warmth and intimacy combined with Jewish shrewdness.

He studied industrial engineering and management in Tbilisi, worked in the textiles industry and in the late 1970s, met Boris Berezovsky.

The Berezovsky connection

Over the years Berezovsky became one of the best-known of Russia's oligarch class, who found up fleeing to London, which granted him political asylum. Meanwhile, he became one of Patarkatsishvili's closest friends and business partners, a relationship that made the Georgian very wealthy indeed.

In March 2007, the Georgian Times estimated that Patarkatsishvili is worth $12 billion.

Berezovsky named Patarkatsishvili as chief financial VP of his company LogoVAZ, which was in the car business. It distributed, marketed and sold Russian-made cars. Wikipedia explains that LogoVAZ was the consignment dealer of another Berzovsky firm, AutoVAZ.

In the mid-1990s, Patarkatsishvili became First Deputy Director General of the leading Russian TV channel, ORT, and also assumed a top role at the oil company Sibneft.

In May 2001, Patarkatsishvili took the chair of Berezovsky's private TV network, TV6. In June of that year, however, he and Berezovsky were jointly charged by the Russian prosecution of stealing hundreds of millions of rubles from Aeroflot, the Russian national airline, and moving the missing money to Switzerland. He left Russia and returned to Georgia.

Patarkatsishvili is also accused of stealing cars during his stint at Logo VAZ. Russia has asked Georgia to extradite him several times, but neither he nor Berezovsky have been turned over to the long arm of Moscow law.

Bounce, bounce, checkmate

After his return to Georgia, in 2002 Patarkatsishvili set up a private media company, the first of its sort in that country, called Imedi.

He also bought Georgia's national circus, soccer clubs, and the Dynamo Tbilisi basketball team. He also adopted four wrestlers, swimmers and even Georgian chess players.

Patarkatsishvili also spent millions on developing Tbilisi, and even took the unprecedented step of lending the city a million dollars, interest-free, to pay for gas supplied by Russia - after Russia threatened to cut off Georgia's gas supply for nonpayment.

In 2003 Patarkatsishvili was named president of the Georgian Association of Businessmen, and the following year he was elected Man of the Year by the Georgian business sector.

In December 2004, he began serving on Georgia's Olympian committee and come the start of 2005, he became president of Georgia's Jewish TV network.

At the start of 2006, Patarkatsishvili openly condemned the Georgian government's economic and political policies under president Mikheil Saakashvili, mainly in respect to civil rights and the rights of the local businessmen. The local political leaders were not impressed and charged him with subversion.

At that point Patarkatsishvili sold some of his media businesses in Georgia - to western interests - and moved to London. Now he lives there and says he has no intention of going back to his homeland.

And this is a thumbnail sketch of the man who may one day own Maariv. The negotiations reportedly price the company at $200 million, though its market cap on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is $156 million, after a recent surge in its share price.

Adelson may beat him to the finish, though: he's reportedly completed due diligence and is expected to tender his official offer soon.