Monks snub Parliament’s investigation

The work of a parliamentary investigative committee that is probing the Vatopedi Monastery property scandal was thrown into disarray yesterday when two senior monks refused to face questions from deputies, instead submitting only written statements. The decision of Vatopedi’s chief monk, Ephraim, and his assistant, Arsenios, not to submit themselves to questioning has raised serious doubts about whether the committee can come to any valid conclusion – by the December 15 deadline – regarding whether any laws were broken in the land deal. Both monks arrived at Parliament through a side entrance and with their lawyers in tow but journalists and cameramen were kept out of the committee room. Ephraim and Arsenios emerged to tell reporters that they had simply handed in written statements, which the MPs eventually accepted. «Yes, we are bad,» said Arsenios when asked if the pair had been «told off.» «They pestered us but they accepted the statements.» Deputies actually argued over what action to take. New Democracy and the Communist Party clashed with PASOK and SYRIZA MPs over whether to accept the written statements from the monks. The conservative deputies were in a majority so the testimony was entered on record. However, the committee chairman and ND deputy Christos Markoyiannakis issued a statement saying the behavior of the monks was «unacceptable and shows a lack of respect toward Parliament and the people who deserve to find out the truth.» In their statements, the monks denied any wrongdoing and said that the state decided what properties to include in the exchange for some 8,000 hectares of land around Lake Vistonida in northern Greece. Ephraim denied that any ministers helped the monastery conclude the deal but admitted visiting several government officials, including former government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, to put across the monastery’s thoughts on the exchange. Arsenios said that the monastery sold a building in the Olympic Village, which is one of several properties it acquired as part of the swap, because it encountered technical problems with its plans to make it a rehabilitation center for disabled people.