Land deals stirring controversy

Monks held an emergency meeting on Mount Athos last night to discuss the controversy surrounding the land exchange between the Vatopedi Monastery and the state. The meeting at the semi-autonomous monastic community was held as it emerged that Katerina Peleki, the wife of former Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, who acted as a notary in the deal, submitted legal documents as late as September 2, when the details of the alleged scandal had already been made public. Peleki allegedly submitted to the land registry office in Marathon, northeast of Athens, paperwork relating to the handover of land in nearby Grammatiko - which previously belonged to the Agricultural Development Ministry - to the Vatopedi Monastery. The exchange had originally been part of a wider deal but was put on hold after it emerged that some 80 of the 330 hectares originally meant to be given to the monastery had actually not belonged to the state since 1951. The revised paperwork was submitted on September 2, once details of the wider exchange had begun to be made public and Voulgarakis had denied that he was linked to the deal. In fact, the ex-minister's father-in-law Dimitris Pelekis also appears as the monastery's legal representative on the paperwork. The land exchange has attracted controversy because it has been discovered that the state property given to the monastery was significantly undervalued. The government has revoked the deal, pending a judicial investigation that got under way this week. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and her husband Isidoros Kouvelos, vice president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, issued a statement yesterday denying claims by the leader of the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) that they were connected to the purchase of 180 hectares of land near Volos that was later chosen as the site for a golf course, which will be used when the city hosts the 2013 Mediterranean Games.