Alleged murder plot shakes Georgian Orthodox Church
Tbilisi - Agence France-PresseGeorgia'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