(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 was released in 2009 after spending spent eight years in prison on trumped-up charges connected to his father’s abduction, was elected Monday to succeed the Austrian baking magnate Julius Meinl, the organization said.
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, Israel, during the general assembly meeting of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. Particpants include Jews in Ukraine, Russia, the former Soviet republics and Asia.
“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,” he said.
Mirilashvili is one of Israel’s wealthiest citizens, according to Haaretz, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. His leadership role at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, especially if it is coupled with the allocation of new funding for projects, may reposition the organization as a more influential player in Jewish community politics than it has been in recent years.
Mirilashvili’s son Yitzhak is the owner of Israel’s Channel 20, a right-leaning television channel.
The charges that sent Mirilashvili to prison were deemed false by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In August 2000, his father, Moshe, 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 suspected kidnappers were found.
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 in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, whose government has been accused of using the judiciary to knock out critics and rivals.
Mirilashvili’s legal team fought his sentencing, and 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 donated millions of dollars to Jewish organizations, including the ZAKA emergency service.