updated 2/13/2008 6:08:49 AM ET 2008-02-13T11:08:49

Badri Patarkatsishvili, a Georgian opposition figure and billionaire businessman who was accused of plotting to overthrow the ex-Soviet republic's government, has died of a heart attack, his spokesman said Wednesday. He was 52.

Patarkatsishvili died overnight in his house outside London, Guga Kvitaishvili said.

Patarkatsishvili was seen as a driving force behind anti-government protests in Georgia in November. He ran against presidential incumbent Mikhail Saakashvili in a snap election in January, getting about 7 percent of the vote. Opposition groups have alleged the vote was rigged.

He was under investigation at home on charges of plotting to overthrow the government _ accusations he denied, despite acknowledging offering large sums of money to police to side with protesters. The protests were violently broken up by police.

‘I believe they want to kill me’
Patarkatsishvili told The Associated Press in December that he had obtained a tape recording of an official in Georgia's Interior Ministry asking a Chechen warlord to murder him while he was London.

"I believe they want to kill me," Patarkatsishvili told the AP by telephone. His claim could not be verified.

In September, former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili accused Saakashvili of trying to encourage him to kill Patarkatsishvili in 2005, although he later retracted the charge.

Patarkatsishvili left Georgia in November and has spent time in Britain and Israel.

Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, a longtime business associate of Patarkatsishvili's who also lives in London, said relatives told him Patarkatsishvili died around 11 p.m. Tuesday of a heart attack.

Berezovsky, reached by telephone from Moscow, said that Patarkatsishvili had not been ill but had complained about his heart when they met Tuesday. "I saw him yesterday," Berezovsky said.

He said he had gone to the Georgian's home in Surrey county after learning of his death but that police were handling the matter and were not letting people in.

Police probe
Surrey Police confirmed that they were called Tuesday night to respond to the death of Patarkatsishvili at a home in Leatherhead, about 20 miles south of London. An autopsy was to be performed Wednesday.

"As with all unexpected deaths it is being treated as suspicious," said a police spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Opposition leader Giorgy Khaindrava said that "nothing can be ruled out" until after the cause of Patarkatsishvili's death is confirmed.

"He was a healthy man. Let's wait for the results of medical examination to be clear about what has happened," Khaindrava said.

Patarkatsishvili, who lived in Russia between 1993 and 2001, was also wanted by Russian authorities on charges of stealing cars from Russia's largest car maker AvtoVAZ in the 1990s and plotting an escape from police custody in 2001 for a business associate who was under fraud investigation.

Patarkatsishvili is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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