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Georgian Patriarch's Press Secretary Resigns Amid Cyanide Scandal

Patriarch Ilia II
Patriarch Ilia II

TBILISI -- The press secretary of the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church has resigned amid a scandal over the arrest of an archpriest who authorities say was trying to carry cyanide to Germany, where Patriarch Ilia II was undergoing medical treatment earlier this month.

Press Secretary Mikael Botkoveli, who is a priest, announced on February 23 that he was stepping down in protest against a statement by the patriarch’s security chief, Soso Okhanashvili, who called Botkoveli "a liar."

Earlier on February 23, Botkoveli said that he had not seen Okhanashvili in the patriarch's office for several days. Okhanashvili later accused Botkoveli of lying and said that he had been with Ilia both in Germany and after his return to Georgia on February 20.

Georgia's chief prosecutor said on February 13 that an archpriest, Giorgi Mamaladze, was arrested on February 10 as he boarded a plane to Berlin, where the patriarch was awaiting a gallbladder operation. The prosecutor said that cyanide was found in Mamaladze's luggage and that he was suspected of planning to "murder a high-ranking cleric" -- but did not name Mamaladze's alleged target.

Ilia, 84, wields significant influence on social and political life in the predominantly Orthodox Christian former Soviet republic of 4.9 million.

He underwent successful gallbladder surgery in Berlin on February 13, church officials said.

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