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The archpriest detained for allegedly attempting to poison a ‘high ranking cleric’, Giorgi Mamaladze, has denied the accusation, and has invoked the right to remain silent under questioning. Meanwhile, prominent religious figures have suggested that his detention is an attempt to distract people from corruption within the Church.
The identity of Mamaladze’s alleged target has not been confirmed by either law enforcement agencies, Mamaladze, or the Church, but local media outlets have named him as the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II. Mamaladze denies planning the murder as well as possessing the cyanide that police found on him.
After visiting Mamaladze in prison, Georgia’s Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, was quoted by local media outlet Netgazeti as saying that Mamaladze believes the case is not connected to the high-ranking cleric.
‘It’s a very important detail’, Nanuashvili said, ‘In any case, Mamaladze says that the charges which he has been accused of have nothing to do with a high-ranking cleric’.
According to the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia, Irakli Shotadze, the investigation of the case started on 2 February on the basis of a tipoff that Mamaladze had asked for help in obtaining a poisonous substance — cyanide — which he planned to use to poison a high ranking cleric. The Prosecutor’s Office explained that Mamaladze was planning to travel to Germany, where the Patriarch is receiving medical care in Helios Berlin Buch Clinic. He was accompanied by his nephew, Dimitri Shiolashvili, another prominent figure in the Church, as well as the Patriarch’s secretary — Shorena Tetruashvili. The Patriarch underwent a gallbladder operation on 13 February and is in stable condition. The operation was not connected with the alleged attempted poisoning.
Thirty-one-year-old Mamaladze, originally from the seaside town of Kobuleti, worked as deputy director of the patriarchate’s property management service and as director of the patriarchate’s St. Ioakime and St. Ana medical centre.
In a letter addressed to the Patriarch obtained by Rustavi 2, Mamaladze reportedly complains about problems he had discovered while examining the Church’s finances. The authenticity of the letter has not been confirmed.
Another prominent figure in the Georgian church, Metropolitan Petre Tsaava, told Rustavi 2 that the whole case might be fabricated. He claims that, to the best of his knowledge, Mamaladze had found some irregularities regarding the financial operations of patriarchate, he had discovered corrupt schemes, and Mamaladze’s decision to share the information with Ilia II could be a reason for Tetruashvili to frame him.
Tsaava has previously claimed that Tetruashvili is ‘the leading figure in the institution’ and accused her of fostering a ‘shadow government’, referring to her as the ‘Grey Cardinal’. Tetruashvili did not respond to the accusations publicly until 15 February, when she was asked about the case by a journalist from the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) in Germany.
‘It is not about me. He [Tsaava] is referring to another person, it’s his problem’ she said, before refusing to continue speaking to the journalist.
However, Tsaava made it clear in his interview with Rustavi 2 that he was referring to Tetruashvili. According to Tsaava, Tetruashvili has a huge amount of influence on the majority of high priests and bishops, even controlling them. Tetruashvili, who is usually hard to reach publicly, refused to answer the accusations.
Archbishop (korepiskoposi) Iakob Iakobashvili responded to Tsaava’s claims, denying any irregularities, wrongdoings or violations of the law and claiming that he was planning to audit the patriarchate himself.
Mamaladze was arrested on 10 February in Tbilisi International Airport under suspicion of planning to commit murder, as he was about to board a flight to Berlin, but his arrest was not made public until three days later. An investigation is ongoing for attempted murder (article 18-108 of the criminal code of Georgia) and for unauthorised possession of a firearm (article 236). If found guilty, he will face 7–15 years in prison.
According to public polls, the Georgian Orthodox Church is by far the most credible public institution in predominantly Orthodox Georgia, and the 84-year-old Patriarch is widely considered to be one of the most respected, influential, and powerful public figures in the country.