Fresh Vatopedi inquiry launched

A controversial property swap between the state and the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos was in the spotlight again yesterday, several months after two investigations into the deal had petered out. A parliamentary committee is investigating for a second time allegations that the monastery benefited in a land swap with the state that cost taxpayers around 100 million euros. It is alleged that several public officials and possibly even former government ministers colluded to ensure that Vatopedi received prime real estate in return for property of a lesser value. The first parliamentary probe into the affair concluded in January 2009 with the then New Democracy government abstaining from a vote toward bring charges against conservative politicians. A judicial investigation has also failed to lead to any convictions so far. The Vatopedi land swap was one of several corruption scandals that precipitated the downfall of the previous New Democracy government and the conservatives reluctantly accepted PASOK’s request for a fresh inquiry. ND, therefore, would have been loath to hear the testimony given yesterday by the monastery’s former financial manager, Ephraim. The monk told MPs that Vatopedi had not proposed the land swap but that it had been put forward by former Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis and former Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Basiakos. Ephraim, however, denied that former government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos and ex-Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s personal aide, Yiannis Angelou, were involved in the deal. The holy man said they were visitors to the monastery for purely spiritual matters. Vatopedi had numerous investments, including a stock portfolio, but Ephraim insisted this was only because it wanted to ensure that it had enough money to look after the needy. «I am not a prophet but I could see the economic crisis coming and I thought that we should have enough money so we can look after the hungry that come to the monastery,» he told MPs.

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