June 29, 2010

Greek Ministry Sues Vatopaidi Monastery

Greek Ministry Sues Orthodox Monastery Over Land-Exchange Deal

June 28, 2010
By Natalie Weeks
Business Week

Greece sued an Orthodox Christian monastery over a land deal, seeking ownership recognition and a damages payment.

Greece’s State Legal Council filed its case against Vatopedi monastery on June 25th asking that an Athens court recognize the government as the owner of 180 stremmata (44.5 acres) in northern Greece that was part of a land exchange deal in 2007, according to an e-mailed statement from the Athens- based finance ministry today.

The government also asked for 10 million euros ($12.3 million) in moral harm payments, the statement said.

Two members of former Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis’s government resigned in the furor over the sale of state land to the monastery, a transaction that cost Greek taxpayers 100 million euros, according to media reports.

Calls to the monastery outside of normal operating hours weren’t answered. The Vatopedi monastery, on the autonomous monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece, is administered by Patriarch Vartholomeos, the spiritual head of the world’s estimated 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Vatopedi Legal Action Launched

June 29, 2010

Parliament was due to vote late last night in a secret ballot on whether to hold a preliminary judicial inquiry into the exchange of real estate between the state and the Vatopedi Monastery, just a few days after the government launched legal action against the Mount Athos monks.

Following a parliamentary inquiry at the end of which the five parties were unable to arrive at a common conclusion as to whether there was enough evidence to prosecute specific politicians in connection to the property deal, the House was due to vote on whether a more thorough probe should be launched with the aim of establishing if former ministers committed any crimes.

Members of both parties have been accused of working to set up a deal to give valuable public property to the monastery in return for land of much lower value. PASOK concluded that at least six members of the previous government – Theodoros Roussopoulos, Petros Doukas, Evangelos Bassiakos, Alexandros Kontos, Giorgos Voulgarakis and Giorgos Kiltidis – should face further investigation over their alleged roles in the exchange, which is estimated to have cost taxpayers at least 100 million euros. But it also accepted two of its ex-ministers – Giorgos Dris and Apostolos Fotiadis – had set the wheels in motion for the deal more than a decade ago by following up on the monastery’s claim to land around Lake Vistonida in northeastern Greece.

It was made known yesterday that the State Legal Council had filed a suit against Vatopedi on Friday, claiming that the government was the owner of one of the areas of land around Vistonida, 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.