Vatopedi money trail investigated

Two witnesses are to be summoned before a parliamentary investigative committee to answer supplementary questions in connection with the Vatopedi inquiry after Bank of Greece experts revealed details yesterday about some of the financial transactions conducted by the monastery. The head of the panel of MPs, conservative deputy Christos Markoyiannakis, requested the reappearance in Parliament of the monastery's lawyer Alexandros Hatzialexandrou and businessman Giorgos Sachpazidis for more questioning. Markoyiannakis has asked the pair to return in order to clarify some information uncovered by the Bank of Greece. Hatzialexandrou is alleged to have withdrawn cash from the monastery's bank accounts while Sachpazidis allegedly received 6 million euros in six checks of 1 million euros each, though one of the checks is still unaccounted for. The Bank of Greece informed deputies that it would take months of investigation and cooperation with international authorities to establish the money trail to and from Vatopedi's accounts. In addition, the bank's financial experts believe that more than 10 million euros in cash may have been withdrawn by monks, without any indication where this money ended up. There are also indications that the monastery has been involved in money laundering. However, the Bank of Greece inspectors said it would be virtually impossible to ascertain whether the monks had paid cash to any politicians. «I would consider it unthinkable that someone would deposit 2 million euros in a bank account without the bank reporting it to authorities,» said Yiannis Gousios, the man leading the team of inspectors. «We will not trace the money if it has been deposited in a foreign bank account,» said Gousios. «That would require a coordinated effort by many anti-money laundering committees abroad and would take a very long time.» Meanwhile, the two prosecutors carrying out a judicial investigation into claims that the land exchange between the Vatopedi Monastery and the state cost taxpayers some 100 million euros summoned the first 27 witnesses to appear before them for questioning. The first witnesses will be from the state bodies that advised ministers during the drawing up of the deal that saw Vatopedi obtain some prime real estate in return for land around Lake Vistonida in northern Greece. The first witnesses are expected to give evidence on Thursday.