A Tbilisi court has convicted a senior priest of planning to kill Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II's personal secretary by poisoning her with cyanide and sentenced him to nine years in prison.
Archpriest Giorgia Mamaladze, who is in custody, chose not to be present in the courtroom when a Tbilisi City Court judge pronounced the verdict on September 5.
Mamaladze was arrested at Tbilisi International Airport in February, where authorities said cyanide was found in his baggage as he sought to board a flight to Berlin.
He was convicted of planning to kill Ilia's personal secretary, Shorena Tetruashvili, who was aiding the 84-year-old patriarch after a gall-bladder operation in Berlin.
Before the hearing, defense lawyer Giorgi Pantsulaya told journalists he believed Mamaladze would be acquitted "if the court is not under pressure from anyone."
Another lawyer for Mamaladze, Mikheil Ramishvili, said after the verdict was issued that it will be appealed -- first at an appeals court and then, if necessary, at the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The prosecution case relied heavily on a witness who told the authorities that Mamaladze contacted him and asked him to help obtain potassium cyanide in exchange for a "good" job.
A report issued by prosecutors in March said that the man had notified the authorities after being approached by the archpriest, and that secret recordings of meetings between the two were made.
Prosecutors said that Mamaladze eventually found a different source for the cyanide.
They alleged that Mamaladze expected to gain power within the church once Tetruashvili was dead.
Ilia has been head of the Georgian Orthodox Church since 1977, nearly 15 years before the breakup of the Soviet Union.
He wields significant influence on social and political life in the South Caucasus country, more than 80 percent of whose 4.9 million people consider themselves Orthodox Christians.