With tears and applause the audience welcomed the decision of an Athens criminal court to acquit all 14 defendants charged in connection with a property swap between the Vatopedi Monastery in the Mount Athos monastic community in northern Greece and the Greek state.
The abbot of the Vatopedi monastery, Ephraim, and a monk, Arsenios, were among those acquitted of the charges.
Upon hearing the verdict, the audience in court, mainly monks and clerics, started to sing “Christ has Risen.” Some burst into tears, everybody applauded.
“I thank God and Virgin Mary for the successful outcome of the case and all those who stood by us, the Church and our legal advisers. We thank and glorify God,” abbot Ephraim told reporters.
According to Kathimerini, the judges found a lack of evidence backing moral instigation charges over a deal trading low-value land for high-value state property that was said to have cost the state more than 100 million euros in damages.
Following months of testimony, the court’s three-judge panel unanimously ruled to uphold the recommendation of prosecutor Vassiliki Krina, who argued that there was no evidence of intent on the part of any of the defendants, as they were executing government decisions and were convinced their actions were legal.
A special parliamentary committee set up after the case emerged in 2008 had found that any charges of misconduct against officials in the 2004-2009 Costas Karamanlis administration implicated in the deal had expired under the statute of limitations.
“Today’s verdict heals a major wound. It restores the truth and the honor of the individuals who were unjustly accused. It also exposes those who came up with executed this dishonorable action,” Karamanlis, the former prime minister, said in a statement in the wake of the Vatopedi decision on Tuesday.
However, the court in its judgment recognizes that “Vistonida lake and the lake area belong to the state.”