NEWS

Land probe fizzling out

No more witnesses will be called to give evidence as part of the Vatopedi Monastery inquiry, it was decided yesterday, after New Democracy blocked a bid by PASOK for the period of questioning to be extended. The parliamentary committee investigating whether there was anything illegal about an exchange of land between the state and the Mount Athos monks has to wrap up its probe by December 15. PASOK had been hoping to call more witnesses, including Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, for questioning but the conservative deputies, who form a majority on the panel, blocked the move. As a result, the questioning will end today and members of the committee will then begin compiling their reports. The representatives of each of the five parliamentary parties will produce a report of their own. Chances that the reports will come to any groundbreaking conclusions took a knock yesterday when it was revealed that Cypriot authorities want Greece to make a judicial request before they can reveal the details of the bank accounts that belong to Rassadel and Mateus, the two Cyprus-based companies in which the monastery invested. Questioning continued last night with Deputy Foreign Minister Petros Doukas, who previously served at the Economy and Finance Ministry, saying that public interest had not been harmed in the land swap, which he claimed had been set in motion by PASOK before New Democracy came to power in March 2004. Former Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Basiakos backed this view, saying that PASOK ministers had agreed to award the land around Lake Vistonida in northern Greece to the monastery. This land was subsequently swapped for various other properties as part of the deal with the state. However, sources said that the prime minister is preparing to publicly accept that the government could have done more to prevent the monks being awarded some of the properties. So far, the conservatives have refused to accept any political responsibility for the land swap.