NEWS

Vavilis extradition sought

An Athens prosecutor yesterday officially requested the extradition from Italy of Apostolos Vavilis, a fugitive drug dealer whom Greek authorities want to interview due to his close links with top officials in the scandal-ridden Church of Greece and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Vavilis, 44, was arrested by Italian police on Friday afternoon in an Italian friend’s Bologna apartment, where Greek detectives traced him after monitoring his e-mail and credit card use. He was dressed in the cassock and cap of a Greek monk, and was found in possession of a Greek passport in a false name that had been issued on the basis of forged identity papers. Although Greek authorities are eager to interrogate him, it seems unlikely that yesterday’s request – by appeals court prosecutor Panayiotis Nikoloudis – will result in his extradition in the near future, as Vavilis already has an outstanding seven-year jail term to serve in Italy, after being convicted in absentia for smuggling heroin. A Greek court has handed him a 13-year sentence for the same offense, which was suspended after police told the court Vavilis had provided them with important information on narcotics cases. He currently faces forgery charges, and is being investigated for money laundering. Vavilis was allegedly sent by Church of Greece leader Archbishop Christodoulos to Jerusalem in 2001 to help with the election of the current patriarch, Irenaios. The patriarch has confirmed this, although Christodoulos denied any involvement – while admitting to having written letters of recommendation for Vavilis before and after his drug convictions. Vavilis claims Irenaios promised him $400,000 for his services, but never paid up. Yesterday, further details emerged as to the fugitive’s activities just before and during the 10-week manhunt that ended with his arrest on Friday. Police said Vavilis recently engaged in daily hacking attacks on the Jerusalem Patriarchate’s website, where he posted an abusive commentary on Irenaios. Late last year, the drug dealer traveled to Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand, where he is believed to have been planning to start a business selling Greek mastic and olives. He returned to Europe in February.