An Athens criminal court on Tuesday acquitted all 14 defendants charged in connection with a contentious property swap between the Vatopedi Monastery in the monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece and the Greek state.
The monastery’s abbot, Ephraim, and a monk, Arsenios, were among those acquitted after judges decided there was a lack of evidence to substantiate moral instigation charges over a deal trading low-value land for high-value state property that was said to have cost the state some 100 million euros.
Following a trial that lasted two years, the three-member court deemed that there was no evidence of intent to cause damages on the part of any of the defendants as they were executing government decisions. All 14 were acquitted of charges of breach of faith and making false statements. Reacting to the verdict, Ephraim said, “We thank God and the Virgin Mary for the positive outcome of the case and all those who stood by us.”
A probe by a parliamentary panel set up after the case emerged in 2008 led to the indictment of three ministers who served under the Costas Karamanlis administration but their alleged offenses had expired under the statute of limitations so they did not face trial.
In a rare public statement, Karamanlis said the verdict “heals a major wound.”
“It restores the truth and honor of individuals who were unjustly accused. It also exposes those who came up with and executed this dishonorable action.” New Democracy said the ruling vindicated Karamanlis’s administration, which had been “charged and slandered groundlessly.”