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Georgian archpriest found guilty in ‘Church poison plot’

5 September 2017
Giorgi Mamaladze (Allnews.ge)

Tbilisi City Court has found archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze guilty of plotting to murder Shorena Tetruasvhili, the secretary-referent of the head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church.

In a 5 September decision, judge Besik Bugianishvili sentenced him to 9 years in prison.

Mamaladze was arrested on 10 February on suspicion of planning to commit murder, as he was about to board a flight to Berlin, where the head of the Church, Patriarch Ilia II, was receiving treatment. Based on implications from Georgia’s Prosecutor’s Office, early media reports suggested the Patriarch was the target.

Georgia’s Prosecutor’s Office soon refuted this, later claiming Mamaladze’s target was Tetruashvili, but abstained from disclosing any details after the case was classified ‘top secret’.

The charges against Mamaladze were changed several times, as he was first charged with ‘plotting a murder with mercenary purposes’ and illegally buying and keeping a firearm. Later, Tbilisi City Court changed the charges to the less serious offence of plotting to commit premeditated murder. In the end, he was again charged with ‘plotting a murder with mercenary purposes’.

The investigation reportedly started on 2 February after journalist Irakli Mamaladze told the Prosecutor’s Office that Giorgi Mamaladze had asked for his help in obtaining cyanide, a deadly substance, which he planned to use to poison a high ranking cleric.

The Prosecutor’s Office released more details about Mamaladze on 8 March only to raise additional questions about the case. In hidden camera footage they released, the archpriest is seen asking Irakli Mamaladze: ‘Is it possible to get cyanide’?

Georgia’s Public Defender said ‘justice was not enforced’ with the judgement. After monitoring the case for 7 months, they claim that the presumption of innocence was not observed during the trial.

The Public Defender claimed the courts groundlessly restricted the defence from obtaining footage from Tbilisi International Airport, which would show Mamaladze being detained and his baggage being searched.

Tbilisi-based rights group the Human Rights Centre also denounced the judgement, with them and the Public Defender criticising the court’s decision to close the trial to the public, claiming it was not necessary.

The Human Rights Centre say the court had no direct evidence that Mamaladze was plotting to murder Tetruashvili, and point out that Irakli Mamaladze, the main witness for the prosecution, initiated the conversation released to the public.

Mamaladze insists his innocence and claims it was Shorena Tetruashvili who asked him to purchase cyanide.

Prominent figures in the Church, such as metropolitan Petre Tsaava, have suggested that Mamaladze’s case was an attempt to distract people from corruption within the institution. Tsaava has claims Tetruashvili has fostered a ‘shadow government’ within the Church, referring to her as the ‘Grey Cardinal’.

Tetruashvili, who usually remains out of the public eye, has denied both claims.

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