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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

London Mayor's Aid Runs Over Georgian Man: Will he keep his promise?

On August 27th, Tariel Ivanishvili and his friend Nikolaz Gwenitadze were about to cross the Batumi-Tbilisi highway to buy a pack of cigarettes in the village of Nakhshirgele, just outside Kutaisi when Kulveer Ranger, transportation aid to London Mayor Boris Johnson, hit Ivanishvili on a BMW motorcycle and sent him flying into the highway where two other motorcycles ran over him.
When the story hit the English papers, the accident occurred in Tbilisi and Ivanishvili had suffered a broken leg "but is not believed to be seriously injured," the Daily Mail wrote, while the BBC stated "The pedestrian is thought to have suffered a broken leg." I remember the headlines in Mid-September: "Boris Johnson's Aid Held by Georgian Police."

The truth, however, is a bit different.

Tariel Ivanishvili is not a market vendor, like the Evening Standard originally reported. He worked at the LTD Chiaturmagnum Georgia plant in Nakhshirgele, where he earned a whopping 270 lari ($160) a month. He suffered not one broken one leg, but two - the right femur was stripped of meat and skin to the bone, which was fractured in half, while the left leg, broken in two places, had snapped up behind his back. He also had his hip broken and skull fractured.

The most amazing thing, besides the fact that Tariel survived the accident, is that he has nothing bad to say about Ranger - no hard feelings whatsoever. We won't know for 11 months whether he will be able to walk; he spends his days and nights in bed where the slightest movements incite intense pain as he has 7 steel pins sticking out of one leg, freshly grafted skin and a recently implanted steel brace in his other leg, not to mention the hip pain.

"It was a total accident. Bad luck for both of us," he said.

Ranger suffered a few bruises when he dumped his bike after hitting Tariel. Today he is back at work. I'd call that good luck.

Tariel has no idea how he is going to support his family and get his two young daughters (5 & 9) through school. Like the vast majority of families in Georgia, the Ivanishvili's have no insurance.

To his credit, Ranger visited Ivanishvili twice after the accident and according to the family, promised to pay for all medical expenses, including rehabilitation and compensation for the loss of work. Then he suddenly disappeared.

It was Bagrationi Sparkling Wines, sponsor of the charity rally Ranger was taking part in that actually picked up the bill for the first operation of 17,000 lari ($10,200). They didn't have to do it as nobody was held liable for the accident. The family lawyer says they have committed to covering the rest of the costs, but there is no legal document binding them to the agreement. Furthermore, nobody has mentioned compensation for the loss of work.

The Ivanishvili family maintain Mr. Ranger is "a very nice man," although they haven't heard from him since his abrupt departure and don't know if he will live up to his gentleman's promise to help the family out.

The Ivanishvili's aren't making a big deal out of the accident for fear they will appear like knavish fortune seekers. "We don't want a scandal," they said. When I interviewed them for a story they made it very clear they didn't want me to smear Ranger's name. I hoped though, that the story might trigger the Englishman's memory.

Could Ranger be a louse? According to the BBC story, Ranger said of the accident: "To be honest, it was an interesting experience. Not one you would want to repeat, but it added to the adventure... To be honest, what was just as alarming was an earthquake one night. 6.6 on the Richter scale."

My story for the London Evening Standard is HERE.


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