Alleged murder plot shakes Georgian Orthodox Church

A priest has been arrested on his way to visit Patriarch Ilia II (pictured) -AFP photo

A priest has been arrested on his way to visit Patriarch Ilia II (pictured) -AFP photo

TBILISI: Georgia’s Orthodox Church was rocked Monday after police announced the arrest of a priest over a suspected poisoning plot targeting a high-ranking Church figure.

Prosecutors in the Caucasus nation said they caught archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze with sodium cyanide on February 10 as he boarded a plane to Berlin, where Patriarch Ilia II was awaiting a gallbladder operation.

The country’s chief prosecutor said in a statement that Mamaladze was in pre-trial detention on “suspicion of plotting to murder a high-ranking Church official”.

The statement did not specify the target of the plot but the prime minister responded by ordering increased security for 83-year-old Ilia.

Mamaladze, who is director general of the Georgian Church’s medical clinic, “had systematic contacts” with the patriarch, prosecutors said.

Ilia — who has long suffered ill health — successfully underwent the gallbladder operation in Germany on Monday, Georgian media reported.

The conservative Georgian Orthodox Church — followed by more than 80 percent of the 4.5 million population — is one of several distinct Eastern Orthodox Churches, which also include the Greek and Russian Churches.

Ilia II — who has led the Church such since 1977 — wields significant influence on Georgia’s social and political life.

He oversaw a major revival of the Church after Georgia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Church was severely repressed during the Soviet era and Tsarist Russia’s occupation of Georgia. -AFP

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