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Vatopedi Scandal: State to Probe 5 ex Ministers

Thumbnail – photo: http://apollonios.pblogs.gr/2008/11/367167.html

Greek Parliament  voted  to hold  a preliminary judicial inquiry into the Real Estate scandal of Vatopedi Monastery and Vistonida Lake. Greek lawmakers agreed also to probe 5 former Ministers and Deputy Ministers of  right Nea Dimokratia, governing party 2004-2009.

Former ministers Giorgos Voulgarakis, Theodoros Roussopoulos,  Evaggelos Mpasiakos, Petros Doukas and Alexandros Kontos have been accused of being involved into  exchange of real estate between the state and the Vatopedi Monastery and working to set up a deal to give valuable public property to the monastery in return for land of much lower value. They should face further investigation over their alleged roles in the exchange, which is estimated to have cost taxpayers at least 100 million EUROS.

Last  Friday, theState Legal Council had filed a suit against Vatopedi Monastery, claiming that the government was the owner of one of the areas of land around Vistonida Lake, a 1.8-hectare plot, that formed part of the swap carried out by the previous New Democracy government in 2007. The government is also asking for 10 million Euros in moral damage payments

The move against the several politicians aims at satisfying the public’s demand for retribution for decades of corruption. According to Polls Greeks are more likely to accept harsh austerity measures if those involved in corruption scandals go to prison while their properties are confiscated.

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Samaras (l.), Chairman of Nea Dimokratia threatens to expell from the party Voulgarakis & Roussopoulos (r.)

The Vatopedi Scandal

The Vatopedi scandal erupted in spring 2008 and shocked religious and non-religious Orthodox Greeks alike. It was one of the factors that brought down the Karamanlis-government in 2009.

The prominent monastery of Vatopedi is situated on monks republic of Mount Athos, in Halkidiki peninsula in Northern Greece. Vatopedi  is considered to be the richest monastery on Agio Oros (Holy Mountain)

“General Manager of Vatopedi Real Estate” or “Vatopedi CEO” – as stamped by Greek media- is prior Ephraim, a Cyprus born monk.

The Vatopedi scandal  involves numerous powerful actors and financial interests.

The Vatopedi  monastery has acquired a reputation among a wide range of analysts, echoed by events, as becoming in recent years a communications and networking hub for British royalty, like the Prince of Wales, rich Greek ship-owners in London and Cyprus and, reportedly, now for Russian oligarchs as well.

The essence of the alleged scandal is that some of Vatopedi’s monks deviously mishandled the real estate holdings of the monastery. As is well known, the Orthodox Church is the largest single landowner in Greece, and the Athonite monasteries are especially well endowed.

Vatopedi Monastery has traditionally held great estates all over Greece. Over the past decade, however, it has managed to swap some of these locations  in high-value places like Athens Olympic Real Estates and then resell these acquisitions, making a tidy profit in the process.

Those accusing the monastery of illegitimate behavior are now arguing that the swaps, although made lawfully, constitute a scandal because the real estate value was calculated wrongly by the accountants and realtors involved. The swaps have allegedly began back in 1999when the PASOK under PM Kostas Simitis was in power.

Vatopedi’s monks were able to acquire land, such as an area near the Vistonida Lake in Thrace, simply by presenting a Byzantine chrysovoulos (chrysobull), -real estate ownership title-, the mark of any specific emperor’s final judgment or endowment of authority. Medieval Western rulers were entranced by such displays of status that they famously adopted them on rare occasions, but today it is only in Greece, apparently, that people are still citing medieval Golden Bulls in any legally binding context.

A preliminary parliamentary committee set up in January investigatedwhy the wealthy Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos received prime, state-owned real estate in exchange for cheap rural land. No money payments were done at the land exchange deals.

Yesterday it was that  the case should now be examined by a higher committee which has the power to lift politicians’ immunity and act as a prosecutor.

more info on Mount Athos real estates and ownership titles in :

http://www.balkanalysis.com/2008/11/04/scandal-over-vatopedi-international-capital-and-aristocracy-mixed-with-greek-politics/

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