Vatopedi monks still defiant

The senior monks implicated in the Vatopedi land scandal yesterday denied any wrongdoing in the affair, moments after a prosecutor heard a civil servant blame her political superiors for handing over a prized piece of land to the Mount Athos monastery. The former head monk at Vatopedi, Ephraim, as well as the monastery’s financial manager Arsenios and seven other monks submitted written statements in which they denied charges of fraud, bearing false witness and money laundering. Ephraim and Arsenios claim that the state initiated the deal to swap property with the monastery and not the other way around. They also insist that Vatopedi retains the deeds to some 2,700 hectares of land around Lake Vistonida in northeastern Greece, which is the most contentious part of the deal. The preliminary investigation into this and other property deals began last year and is set to conclude this week. Prosecutors are trying to determine whether any laws were broken to set up the deal that allegedly saw the monastery obtain some prime real estate in return for the state getting land of much lower value. It is alleged that the exchange cost taxpayers more than 100 million euros. Also in a written statement yesterday, Agricultural Development official Stamatina Manteli, who is in charge of a land department, suggested that the monastery has no legal right to claim the land in Vistonida, nor to ask any compensation for its return to public hands. Manteli suggested that she helped put together the deal because she had been asked to by superiors at the ministry, thereby implicating former ministers Evangelos Basiakos and Alexandros Kontos as well as current Deputy Minister Costas Kiltidis.

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