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Georgian Orthodox archbishop accuses government of plotting to overthrow the Patriarch

28 October 2019
Archbishop Iakob Iakobishvili. Screengrab from a video by Ingula Nafetvaridze.

A high-ranking member of the Georgian Orthodox Church has accused government officials including Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia of attempting to orchestrate the removal of the head of the Church, Patriarch Ilia II.

In an interview with TV Pirveli on 26 October, Archbishop Iakob Iakobishvili claimed the officials had sought his help in removing Ilia II and replacing him with Metropolitan Shio Mujiri.

In November 2017, Ilia II named Mujiri as the incumbent of the patriarchal throne, who will take over the Church in the event the patriarch is incapacitated or dies. 

He said the meeting had included then–Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, then–Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, and then-State Security Service head Vakhtang Gomelauri. He did not specify the date the alleged meeting took place.

All three have denied the accusations.

In September 2019, Gakharia succeded Kvirikashvili as Prime Minister, appointing Gomelauri as his replacement as Interior Minister.

Iakobishvili resigns

Iakobishvili, a frequent and outspoken government critic, resigned on Monday as Chorbishop, an advisory role to the Patriarch.

The Church released a statement announcing Iakobishvili’s resignation as he was meeting with top Church officials.

Upon leaving the Patriarchate, the Church’s administrative body, Iakobishvili insisted that the resignation was his decision alone. He added that he would remain the Archbishop of the Bodbe Eparchy, continuing to lead the Church’s eastern Kakheti diocese.

Earlier that day, Iakobishvili apologised to the ‘whole parish and the nation’ for an expletive-ridden interview on Sunday with opposition-leaning TV channel Mtavari Arkhi but insisted he was not retracting his account. 

‘A plot to murder Ilia II’

In his interview with TV Pirveli on 26 October, Iakobishvili said he was summoned by Kvirikashvili’s where he, Gomelauri, and Gakharia ‘worked on him’ to support Ilia II’s retirement. 

He claimed that the idea came from Georgian businessman Vano Chkhartishvili, who according to Iakobishvili ‘talked about it’ with Georgian Dream Party Chair Bidzina Ivanishvili. 

Iakobishvili has been a public critic of the ruling party, especially Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

In his media appearances, he has insisted that the real target of a cyanide murder plot — a scandal that shook Georgia in 2017 — was Ilia II. He has said the plot came ‘from the top’ and added on 26 October that it was planned before he met government officials.

He reiterated his claim about a plot against the Patriarch on 26 October and identified Ilia II’s nephew, Metropolitan Dimitri Shiolashvili and ‘Soso’, allegedly the former head of the Patriarch’s security service Soso Okhanashvili, as those who ‘had selected’ priest Giorgi Mamaladze to execute the murder

‘I will not forgive those people who sought the Patriach’s murder’, Iakobishvili said. 

[Read more on OC Media: Poison plot reveals conflicting camps in Georgia’s Orthodox Church]

Denials and demands

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia dismissed the allegations on 26 October as ‘nonsense’, adding that he was ‘shocked’ by them. 

‘I have noted on more than one occasion that the Church is a unifying force that [cements] our statehood’, Gakharia told journalists. 

During his denial, Gakharia mistakenly said ‘kills’ (klavs) instead of ‘cements’ (kravs), something that many online called a ‘Freudian slip’. 

Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri and former Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili also denied the allegations. 

Parliamentary opposition groups the United National Movement (UNM) and European Georgia both demanded that law enforcement agencies investigate the claims. 

Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of European Georgia, said the party would like Iakobishvili to appear before parliament to give more details. 

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