NEWS

Pressure grows for Vavilis’s return

A Larissa prosecutor has issued a European arrest warrant for Apostolos Vavilis, a fugitive drug dealer with close links to top officials in the Church of Greece and the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which could lead to his extradition from Italy within weeks, court sources said on Saturday. The paperwork was signed by appeals prosecutor Evangelos Katsis and will be forwarded to the Italian Justice Ministry. The European arrest warrant came into effect in most EU countries last year and seeks to simplify and speed up the extradition process for suspected criminals. Vavilis, 44, was arrested by Italian police last month in Bologna. His name came to prominence early this year after allegations that Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Church of Greece, sent him to Jerusalem in 2001 to help get Patriarch Irenaios elected. Although Greek authorities are keen to question him, Vavilis may have to serve an outstanding seven-year jail sentence in Italy first. He was convicted in absentia for smuggling heroin by a Venice court in 1994. A Volos court handed him a 13-year term for the same offense in 1988. His sentence was suspended after police told the court that Vavilis had given them inside information about drug cases. Italian authorities had asked for Vavilis to be arrested in 1994. Although the request was relayed by Interpol to the prosecutor in Volos, an arrest warrant was never issued. It was not until 1998 that a warrant was put out by Interpol. If Italian authorities approve the Larissa prosecutor’s request, Vavilis could be in Greece by next month. An Athens prosecutor issued an extradition request last month but Vavilis would first have to face a drug trial in Larissa, which has been outstanding since 1994, according to court sources.