Billionaire unjustly jailed in Putin’s Russia to represent Jewish ex-Soviet communities


(JTA) — Eight years after his release from wrongful imprisonment  in Russia, the Israeli billionaire Mikhael Mirilashvili was elected to lead the World Jewish Congress Euro-Asian affiliate, representing communities from Ukraine to Singapore.

Mirilashvili, who had spent eight years in a Russian prison until 2009 on trumped up charges connected to his father’s abduction, was voted president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress Monday, the organization said, replacing the Austrian baking magnate Julius Meinl.

Mirilashvili, a 57-year-old physician turned industrialist who was born in the Caucasian republic of Georgia, presented a relatively conservative agenda in his acceptance speech delivered in Ramat Gan during the general assembly meeting of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

“We need to strengthen the connection of the Diaspora with Israel and help to reduce assimilation, educating the younger generation, based on the values ​​and traditions of the Jewish people,” said Mirilashvili.

The dark-haired, blue-eyed Mirilashvili is one of Israel’s wealthiest citizens, according to Haaretz. The owner of an estimated fortune of $3 billion, his leadership role at the helm of the EAJC may, especially if it is coupled with the allocation of new funding for projects, reposition the organization as a more influential player in Jewish community politics than it has been in recent years.

Mikhael Mirilashvili’s son, Yitzhak, is the owner of Israel’s Channel 20, a right-leaning television channel in Israel.

Mikhael Mirilashvili had spent eight years in jail in Russia on charges deemed false by the to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In August 2000, his father, Moshe Mirilashvili, a prominent member of the Jewish community who served as president of the Congress of Georgian Jewry, was kidnapped in broad daylight on a main road in St. Petersburg. He was released just two days later, and a month and a half after the abduction, the bodies of two of the kidnappers were found.

Michael Mirilashvili was arrested and charged with several offenses, including attempted murder. In August 2003, he was convicted of kidnapping and lesser charges but acquitted on the charge of attempted murder, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. His imprisonment was seen as part of a larger phenomenon is Russia under President Vladimir Putin, whose government has been accused of using the judiciary to knock out critics and other players deemed replaceable.

Mirilashvili’s legal team fought his sentencing, calling it “enormously unjust” and “enormously severe,” as well as false and motivated by vendettas of powerful business rivals. In 2004, Mirilashvili appealed arguing that his rights had been violated and that he did not receive a fair trial. He was vindicated in 2009. He moved his home base to Israel, where he continued his business activities in Russia and began investing heavily in Israel and elsewhere. He has donates millions of dollars to Jewish organizations, including the ZAKA emergency service,

Michael Mirilashvili was born in Georgia in 1960 and moved to St. Petersburg as a teenager, where he studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics, before turning to focus on business in the 1980s. His family’s wealth came from real estate, but he branched out into areas including not only petroleum and diamonds, but also television, new media, renewable energy and pharmaceuticals, according to Haaretz.

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