Priest Arrested On Suspicion Of Trying To Poison Superior

Georgia's Patriarch Ilya II is said to have been the target of an assassination attempt.Reuters

A Georgian Orthodox priest has been arrested after police accused him of attempting to poison a 'high-ranking Church official'.

Giorgi Mamaladze was detained on Friday at Tbilisi airport as he boarded a plane to Berlin, where the head of the Georgian Church, Patriarch Ilya II, was waiting for a gall bladder operation.

Georgia's chief prosecutor said Mamaladze was in possession of sodium cyanide. His statement did not name the intended target, but the prime minister ordered increased security for the Patriarch.

Mamaladze is director general of the Georgian Patriarchate's St Joachim and Ana Medical Centre, and also serves as deputy head of the Patriarchate's property management service.

He has been formally charged with attempted murder and has pleaded not guilty.

The Georgian Orthodox Church counts around 80 per cent of the country's 4.5 million population among its members and is notably conservative. It withdrew from the Pan-Orthodox Council last year because it believed the preparatory documents gave too much away to non-Orthodox Churches, later repudiating the Council and its decisions.

Patriarch Ilia has led the Church since 1977 and is credited with overseeing a major revival after Georgian regained its independence after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. He has suffered ill-health recently and had a successful gall bladder operation today.