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Georgian charity to write down debts of 600,000

November 20, 2018

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The Georgian government says a charity controlled by the chairman of the ruling party is ready to write off the debts of 600,000 people, which critics have described as an attempt to buy votes ahead of a runoff in next week’s presidential election.

Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said in a statement Monday that the charitable foundation controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, billionaire and former prime minister who chairs the ruling Georgian Dream party, will buy an estimated 1.5 billion lari ($563 million) of bad loans from individuals around the country.

While he did not elaborate how exactly the debts are going to be written off, Bakhtadze said it will affect roughly 600,000 people who have been struggling to pay down their debts. Some 90 percent of them have debts not exceeding 2,000 lari ($750).

Voters in the South Caucasus nation will go to polls next Wednesday to cast their ballots in the runoff, choosing between two former foreign ministers, Grigol Vashadze and Salome Zurabishvili — who has been endorsed by Georgian Dream.

The opposition saw the debt offer as an attempt by Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream to buy votes.

Roman Gotsiridze of the United National Movement called the announcement “a direct attempt to bribe the electorate.”

This will be Georgia’s last presidential election. Constitutional changes kick in at the end of the next president’s term that will leave it to a delegate system to choose the president. The changes will make the prime minister the most powerful political figure in the country.

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This story has been corrected to say that Ivanishvili is a former prime minister, not president.

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