Tbilisi (AFP) - Georgia said Saturday it had launched a probe into controversial media reports suggesting that exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili was plotting a coup to overthrow the authorities.
"Georgia's counter-intelligence department launched an investigation into a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing state authorities and seizing power," the deputy head of Georgia's secret service, Levan Izoria, said in a televised statement.
He said the probe was launched following "investigative activities" and media reports.
Izoria was apparently referring to a publication on an obscure website dubbed "Ukrainian WikiLeaks", which is believed to be registered in Russia.
The website published the transcript of a conversation that allegedly took place at Istanbul airport between Saakashvili and his former national security advisor, Giga Bokeria, with the two discussing plans to trigger mass civil protests against the government.
Bokeria ridiculed the transcript as "grotesque delirium" and suggested the government had made it up.
"It shows that the current government is in agony," he told AFP.
"All of this would be ridiculous, but unfortunately the government's moves threaten constitutional order in Georgia."
The announcement came at a sensitive time for the Western-backed Caucasus nation of 4.5 million people, with tensions heightened over what critics say is a government attack against the country's top pro-opposition channel, Rustavi 2 TV.
Georgia's ruling Georgian Dream coalition and the main opposition party, Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM), have been locked in a political struggle since Georgian Dream defeated the UNM in 2012 parliamentary elections.
Sparking an uproar, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Thursday called the UNM a "criminal organisation" which "has no right to remain in politics".
President Giorgi Margvelashvili criticised the remarks, saying they "added to tensions in an already tense situation."
Saakashvili, 47, has lived in exile after authorities last year issued an arrest warrant for him on abuse of power charges that he insists are politically motivated.
In May, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed Saakashvili governor of the strategic Odessa region.
A slew of Saakashvili's top allies have been investigated and some jailed, prompting the United States and European Union to voice concerns over what they perceive as a witch-hunt against the former president and his entourage.