NEWS

Vavilis caught in Italy

A fugitive drug dealer who maintained close links with senior Greek churchmen and is believed to hold the answers regarding a series of suspected shady deals involving the scandal-ridden Church was arrested in Italy yesterday afternoon following a 10-week manhunt. Apostolos Vavilis, who has been convicted of heroin trafficking in Greek and Italian courts, was caught in the northern Italian city of Bologna after Greek police tracked him to Italy by monitoring his use of electronic mail and credit cards. Immediately after the arrest was announced, Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras said that Athens would request Vavilis’s extradition, and promised he would face a fair trial in Greece. Police Chief Giorgos Angelakos told a press conference that Vavilis had been arrested, with the help of Italian and Interpol detectives, in the flat of a middle-aged Italian female friend and was wearing an Orthodox monk’s cassock and cap. His laptop computer, which is understood to have betrayed him to Greek electronic crime squad experts, was switched on. According to Angelakos, Vavilis was carrying a Greek passport in the name of Antonios Aivaliotis, which had been issued in Athens on the basis of forged identity papers in September 2003. Athens sought Interpol’s help in finding Vavilis on March 21, after efforts to capture him in Greece proved fruitless. The fugitive has been charged with forging identity papers – his trial in absentia was to have started on April 14 but was postponed for October – and is under investigation for money laundering. Angelakos said Italy’s police and Interpol had been mobilized «although Vavilis was not a notorious, major criminal,» following personal requests by Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis. Vavilis was given a seven-year conviction in absentia by an Italian court in 1994 for drug trafficking. In Greece, he received a 13-year sentence for the same offense, which was suspended due to his role as a police drugs informant. He is understood to have sold equipment to the Greek police while on the run from Interpol. According to allegations confirmed by the embattled Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irenaios, Vavilis was sent by the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos, to the holy city in 2001 to help him get elected to the top Church post. Christodoulos has denied that, while admitting to writing letters of recommendation for Vavilis before and after his Greek drugs conviction. In a March interview, Vavilis said Irenaios had offered him $400,000 to help him win the elections, but failed to deliver. Meanwhile, in an interview yesterday Irenaios – who came under intense pressure from Greece, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to resign after an Israeli paper claimed he had authorized the sale of Church land in the Arab sector of Jerusalem to Israelis – restated his intent to cling to power. «The Patriarchs of Jerusalem die on their throne, they do not resign,» Irenaios told Prime magazine.