Pandora’s Box Vatopedi In Numbers (Part One)

By dogcatcher on April 12th, 2012

 

PANDORA’S BOX
VATOPEDI IN NUMBERS
PART ONE

[Editor’s notes: The Editor’s of Gotruthreform.org have long felt that the events that surround the Vatopedi Monastery scandal are and should be a major concern to all that care about Orthodoxy. The links between the key players of this scandal and the Movement that is now commonly referred to as the “Ephraimites” is unnerving. At the center of the scandal is the deposed head Abbott of Vatopedi, commonly known as “Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi”. His spiritual brother (or as many suggest his current spiritual father) is commonly known as “Elder Ephraim of Philotheou”. It is Elder Ephraim of Philotheou that currently resides in Florence Arizona at the St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Monastery.

Both men were the spiritual sons of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Orthodox Wiki.org describes him as follows: “Elder Joseph the Hesychast was a Monk and elder on Mount Athos. He reposed in 1959, and he has wide acclaim for being the spiritual father or grandfather of Elders Ephrem {a/k/a Ephraim} of Philotheou, Joseph of Vatopedi, Charalampus of Dionysiou and others, who are directly credited for revitalising [sic] six of the twenty monasteries on Mount Athos.” http://orthodoxwiki.org/Joseph_the_Hesychast

Why is it important for those that care about Orthodoxy to understand this scandal? First it has been alleged that hundreds of millions of Euros were made by the Monastery of Vatopedi from the hundreds of real estate transactions they participated in with the Greek Government and then later with real estate developers. All the money generated by these transactions has not been accounted for by or to any official or ecclesiastical body.

The spread of Fundamentalism and the birth of “Athonite” Monasteries in North America required vast sums of money. Many do not believe that it came from “believers”. Many look to Greece and perhaps further east as the source of these funds. In our earlier article entitled “MONEY-MONEY-MONEY” we strongly suggest that the Vatopedi Monastery plays a key role in the funding of this extreme movement within our Faith.

In this article we deliver to our readers an accurate translation of the report aired on the show Pandora’s Box on the ERT channel in Greece. There are some sections that do not lend themselves to an exact verbatim translation of the broadcast, but we have strived to be extraordinarily close. In some sections this article, an accurate synopsis of the interviews and commentary contained in the broadcast are provided.

Generally, in the interest of accuracy the text has not always been modified to make this easier to read, so as not to disturb the exact language or intent of the speaker. We will add “Editor’s notes” to aid the reader’s understanding of important events or individuals. At the end of this article you will see a link that will take you to a site in which you can watch the original ERT broadcast of Pandora’s Box. There is a part one and part two of these broadcasts aired by the ERT Network. We urge you to read this article first and then watch the broadcast.]

PART ONE

Video clip with an excerpt from Ephraim’s of Vatopedi speech at the Open University of Katerini, School of Parents, sponsored by the Municipality of Katerini: “Monastic life, my brothers, is not anthropocentric… The person who becomes a Monk leaves vanity behind… The Monk, my brothers, does not have any self serving interests, his foundation is the denouncement of secular life. The Monk embraces a life without possessions…”

In September of 2008, our program Pandora’s Box revealed the scandal of Vatopedi. One of the most renowned, Monastery of Mount Athos Vatopedi, with the guidance of its Abbot Ephraim claims from the farmers and the Greek State 27,000 stremmata from Lake Vistonida. When it lost its legal battle it used even the government machine, Ministers and illegal Ministerial decisions to accomplish its goals. After it got the land it wanted, instead of building Churches and Schools, as it had claimed, it exchanged the land with prime public properties (“fileta”) and then engaged in the business of real estate.

Even we, who knew and revealed the scandal of Vatopedi, were stunned to learn through our continued investigation the extent of the scandal. Bank accounts with millions of Euros, real estate transactions, loans, purchasing of shares, money laundering from buying and selling properties but nowhere [did we find] prayers and piety except perhaps in front of the camera.
A group of Monks succeeds in a unique way to connect itself to power through businessmen, politicians and Judges in order to become the financiers and managers of a multimillion estate that it did not own.

Three years later, amid huge controversies over the scandal, 32 people are being prosecuted, among them Ephraim and the Director of the Office of Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. Three Ministers who were found by the prosecutor to be responsible for criminal acts will not be prosecuted, not because they are innocent but because with the closing of the Parliament in 2009 by Konstantinos Karamanlis any criminal offences they may have been found to be responsible for were basically erased.

WHO IS EPHRAIM?

Ephraim, one of the Monks involved in the Vatopedi scandal, was born in Cyprus and his secular name was Vasilios Koutsou. There he worked as a theologian during the 1970’s. In 1979, he met the Monk Joseph (Joseph the Hesychast) who went to Cyprus from Mount Athos. He became Ephraim’s spiritual father and the two of them together with the then Monk and presently Metropolitan of Lemesos Athanassios lived in the Mithis Monastery in Cyprus.

At some point Joseph had to leave Cyprus secretly after his name was involved in rumors of sexual misconduct. Ephraim and Athanassios followed him. Metropolitan Chrysostomos (now Archbishop of Cyprus) conducted a four month secret investigation into the allegations and then asked Joseph to leave Cyprus. It was rumored that a priest was chasing Joseph to kill him with a knife after he learned of the sexual improprieties. This priest heard about these unspeakable sexual acts at the Monastery he visited to confess nuns and where his daughter lived. The accusations reached the Patriarchate but it decided to close the case.

In 1989 Bartholomew, who is now Patriarch of Constantinople, went to Vatopedi to attend the ceremony that presented the Monastery of Vatopedi to the group from Cyprus.

Later in 1998 a crisis in the Cypriot church and the conflict among the Hierarchs rekindled the issue and during the Holy Synod the letter of a 29 year old teacher was read where she described her sexual abuse in the hands of the Monk Joseph when she was 10 years old in third grade.

It reads partly as follows:
“I met Joseph, and I am sorry I do not call him Father, when I was in third grade. At first he approached me through confession. He simply asked if there is a fellow student that I like. Without me suspecting anything funny about it he would say to me that it is natural for women to feel sexual pleasure (ηδονή). When you get onto your bicycle and you feel pleasure that is not a sin nor is masturbating. He would place me on his knees and put his hand and touch my private parts.”

Chrysostomos, now Archbishop of Cyprus, in his interview with the producers of Pandora’s Box said the following: : “…30 years have passed. It is a sad page. I do not wish to get into the subject. I left it to God. I hope all of us will see better days. Mistakes are made. No one is perfect. But at least we should always take care not to provoke our flock. I do not agree with them and I asked them to leave away from me. The presiding authority should always be strict. I was happy because the Ecumenical Patriarchate handled the whole case with wisdom. And it should be strict because the provocation was grave. The brothers embarrassed us, the Cypriot Church, the Cypriote people, Mount Athos and themselves. I hope that from now on they will be careful to avoid any new provocations.”

THE VATOPEDI CLAIMS TO LAKE VISTONIDA AND THE UNFOLDING OF THE SCANDAL

Abbot Ephraim claims 27,000 stremmata of land by Lake Vistonida and makes references to 11th century golden edicts to validate his claim.

According to Konstantinos Loulis, former governor of Mount Athos, Mount Athos gave the refugees from Asia Minor 1,200,000 stremmata from lands they owned, 100,000 of which were donated by the Monastery of Vatopedi. Vatopedi is now claiming ownership of some of its remaining lands by Lake Vistonida.

Emmanouel Bendeniotis, a PASOK congressman, during his interview for the documentary reiterates the Greek government’s position that it has full ownership of these areas and gives us a brief account of the dispute. On May 1st 1922, the Monastery takes the Greek state to court over the ownership issue of Lake Vistonida. No decision was reached. In 1930 the Monastery and the Greek state sign a contract ( contract 2343 of April 4th, 1930, drawn by Notary Public D. Iatrides) whereby the Greek government gave to the Monastery permission to use the land only for pisciculture {fish farms} for an annual fee equal to the 10% of the annual production. Over the years, Vatopedi transferred the right to use the land to area residents choosing to receive cash payments for their share from the Greek government {the Greek Government would pay the Monastery directly for the use of the property by the local residence}. In his [Bendeniotis’]view, the Greek government at that time asserted its ownership over the disputed lands and has since then considered the case closed.

Ephraim, though, keeps the issue alive and, during the 1990’s, he forcefully pursues the Monastery’s ownership claims to Lake Vistonida.

During the 1990’s, Vatopedi’s influence rises thanks to the strong political and financial connections of its Abbot, Ephraim. Politicians, Ministers, businessmen, journalists, Judges, bankers become the new friends of Ephraim and Vatopedi.

In 1995, the then Minister Stelios Papathemelis proposes to Dimitra Liani to ask Vatopedi to bring Aghia Zoni (the Belt of the Virgin) to help the then ailing Andrea Papandreou. Liani’s spiritual father Father Timotheos acts as the liaison. The Aghia Zoni is taken to Papandreou, and then tours the houses of politicians, Ministers, Judges and is finally offered for public viewing and worship. Ephraim discovers the power of the mass media and their cameras and becomes a favorite in front of the cameras. The Aghia Zoni tour is sponsored by LADA HELLAS [a Greek corporation], whose owner Phoebos Christodoulidis, a businessman and Ephraim’s brother-in-law, vows his unconditional support to Vatopedi. As he himself says in one of his interviews at that time, LADA AE is an annex of the Monastery willing to provide financial assistance and help as needed. Ephraim praises the special powers of Aghia Zoni, and declares it to be equal to a doctor’s specialty.

Video snippets from the Greek television coverage of the whole affair: Aghia Zoni and Ephraim arrive on a private helicopter at the airport; Ephraim and Aghia Zoni visit Papandreou and other officials in big black limousines; the public display and worship of Aghia Zoni; Ephraim, ready to enter the black limo, in front of a huge group of anxious reporters and a passionate crowd of believers, grabs the opportunity to say: “A lot of miracles happened these days just on Friday at 9 o’clock in the morning a worshipper, a paralyzed woman on crutches…”

In the years that follow, the Abbot Ephraim of Vatopedi turns into a media star. In one of his numerous but highly selective interviews he is asked by the reporter about the monastic life.

Reporter: “Elder how is the monastic life for you who has experienced it for so many years?”
Ephraim: “In essence it is the perfect expression of the Bible. We do not have a different Bible than you who live a secular life. But, unfortunately, people because of ignorance………..”

Then reporter Theodoros Roussopoulos {who later became a Minister a position he retained during the outbreak of the scandal} was the person who promoted Ephraim and introduced him to the public and to the political world. When he became a Minister, his wife continued his public relations work. The Roussopoulos couple was certainly very-very close to Ephraim. A whole network of connections became part of Vatopedi’s circle. A sort of sanctified lifestyle was created around the Monastery. Politicians, bankers, Ministers, Judges and other influential people gather at the Monastery. Luxury cars, sailing boats and private helicopters provide a steady flow of visitors to the Monastery. People love the Monastery but the Monastery begins to love other things.

Ephraim from his first meeting with Papandreou pressured him to satisfy the Monastery’s claims. Later, when Liani was asked about it she said there was a meeting when the issue was raised together with talks about restorations but that Papandreou dismissed the whole idea. She also said there were only two meetings and no agreements were made.

There are lots of myths surrounding Vatopedi. Some say the treasures of the Byzantium were moved there after the fall of Constantinople and that part of the gold was given to Venizelos in order to create the Bank of Greece. There are rumors that in the1990’s five (5) fully loaded boats left Mount Athos for an undisclosed destination. These stories cannot be verified unless the Monastery’s archives are opened. Therefore we will use only facts and bank archives that cannot be disputed. What you will see today back were only the results of our investigative report completed in 2008. Today, they are conclusions of the Bank of Greece, of prosecutors and of the Parliamentary Council.

In 1998, Ephraim through his government connections to the Socialist Party [PASOK] manages to obtain opinions from the Legal Councils supporting the Monastery’s ownership claims of Lake Vistonida. Two PASOK Ministers, Dris and Fotiadis, issue a decision accepting the recommendations of the {legal} Councils. But such decisions do not confer ownership titles since they can be revoked by decisions of other Ministers. Only a court ruling can decide ownership title definitively.

In 2003, the Vatopedi group, armed with these opinions and with the support of the Ministers, sues the Greek State in the Court of First Instance [trail court] in Komotini.

Meanwhile, in Thrace, Ephraim tries to gather support for his claims by revealing his plans to put the Vistonida land to good use. His plans include the building of a Byzantine village and schools to strengthen the Orthodox Faith and tourism.

The Monastery’s ownership claims and the proposed plans are strongly opposed by the local residents. With the 2004 elections approaching Minister Fotiadis is forced to revoke his decision and sends the issue back to the Legal Council for an opinion. The protagonist of the opposition to the Monastery’s claims is congressman Alexis Kondos of Nea Dimokratia [New Democracy Party].

Nea Dimokratia wins the elections. But, the Vatopedi group has good relations and connections with the new government. They had a direct connection to Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis through Roussopoulos who bragged that Ephraim was his spiritual father. Ephraim made sure he did his own rounds. From evidence presented to the prosecutor, he and Monk Arsenios [The Monk Arsenios is considered the second in command at Vatopedi and many believe he is the financial “brains” behind the scenes, Editors’ Note] often and freely visited Ministers, Judges and politicians in their offices. They would have direct telephone communications with a lot of them and Ephraim would often visit Prime Minister Karamanlis at Maximou Street.

Prime Minister Karamanlis visits the Monastery and stays there for two nights.
Karamanlis addresses the Monks and Ephraim during his visit at the Monastery:
“We are here to support your great work. As you are aware the amount of 25,000,000 Euros has been granted to the Γ ΚΠΕ {a third grant}(Τριτο Κρατικο Πλαισιο Στήριξης) {Karamanlis is referring to a Greek Government grant given to specifically benefit the Monasteries of Mount Athos} for Mount Athos. I wish to reassure you that within the provisions of the Δ ΚΠΕ {a fourth grant} and in collaboration and agreement with you we will make possible the renovation of the architectural buildings of the Monastery, the conservation and preservation of its heirlooms and its natural environment. I and my fellow co-workers are honored by your hospitality. I must admit that I am particularly moved with my visit here and as I mentioned before it was my dream and vision of many years not realized due to various circumstances.”

The legal action against the Greek State is judged resulting in a vote 2:1 against the claims of the Vatopedi group. The Greek State’s ownership is reaffirmed. The court’s Presiding Judge Mrs. Psalti voted in favor of the Monastery. The recommending Judge passes her recommendation to the Presiding Judge Psalti to be properly copied and published on April 24, 2004. Judge Psalti does not copy or publish the decision. She calls Ephraim and Arsenios to inform them of the Court’s decision. Her actions mark the beginnings of this great scandal.

The decision is kept secret for a time and the political maneuverings begin. Undersecretary of Finance Petros Doukas on June 22, 2004 while a judicial proceeding is still in progress with a decision in favor of the State waiting to be published, orders the Greek State to retract its claims.

In his interview the President of the Bar Association of Xanthi, Kostas Gounaris says: “During the trial of the case at the Court of First Instance in Komotini the state presented many important legal arguments from which one could almost with certainty deduce that the outcome of the case would be favorable to the state’s interests and negative for Vatopedi’s claims. Unfortunately, even though the Greek State, in this case the Minister of Finance as the competent authority for the management of its estate, was reassuring the administration, the Vatopedi Group was waiting for the court’s decision. Totally unjustifiably and inexplicably, in June of 2004, while the decision was still awaited, the Greek State in agreement with the Monastery of Vatopedi asked the Court, I repeat without any justification and explanation, not to publish its decision. This action stopped, as if frozen, the judicial proceedings and the decision was tabled.”

Arios Pagos {the Supreme Court of Greece} has found that Doukas’s decision was illegal. The story does not end there. When on July 6th local representatives of the area’s residents visit him and on July 21st the Bar Associations, unaware of the backstage manipulations, send him a letter asking him to not allow Vistonida to go to the Monastery, he promised them he will try. He was making such promises while he had already signed off the land into Vatopedi’s hands, totally ignoring the Court’s decision, the only competent authority to decide.

Petros Doukas refused to talk to us. He only sent us, in writing, old positions he supported, that he accepted opinions issued by Legal Councils when PASOK was in power. In the examination of his responsibility in February of 2011 by the Judicial Council, Mr. Doukas is accused that he wrongly accepted the opinions but mostly that he illegally decided to withdraw the Greek State’s claims from its rights despite a decision favorable to its interests and that he acted with duplicity.

With these illegal actions, Vistonida is delivered to Vatopedi. Ephraim does not build a Byzantine village {Elder Ephraim had planned to build an Orthodox Style amusement park or an “Orthodox Disneyland” for Orthodox tourists} while the government machine continues to work.
On July 26, 2006, three Ministers, Doukas, Basiakos and Kondos sign their joint decision approving the swapping of the Vistonida land, which cannot be built [or in the American vernacular, was unbuildable due to soil conditions –Editor’s note], with prime public properties known as ‘fileta’ all over Greece.

Proof of the organized effort to serve the interests of the Ephraim group is the fact that the Monks were choosing prime public properties all over Greece long before the Ministers’ joint decision was signed.

According to the investigation’s reports, Undersecretary Alexis Kondos, soon after he resumed his official position and long before the events that took place or any Ministerial decisions were signed, had asked through the Director of the Department of Public Land, Stamatina Madeli, in a document sent to prefectures all over the country to inform him of all the available public properties with commercial and tourist value. This happened two (2) years before any decision to swap land was signed. He was found to have acted with duplicity since he knew who owned Vistonida and he too had in the past expressed his opposition to the claims of Vatopedi.

Interview with Vassilios Sarris, President of the Local Council of Kardia: “They were the Parliament’s lands. They chose the lots without any other lots obstructing them. They chose lots with an open view, not the ones in enclosed areas, because there were more {Valuable} lots. They were selective. That time I was working, I was not at the village, I came in the evening. I heard from the people that some Priests were coming here to measure. We did not know what was going on.”

The Vatopedi group received 260 highly valuable public properties all over Greece. Some were in forested areas some in archaeological sites. They are instantly rezoned. Vatopedi requests the Body of Certified Assessors to assess the lands. The assessors evaluate the lands to be exchanged. In their report they depreciate the value of the properties ‘fileta’ while they grossly over evaluate the value of the Vistonida lands. {This observation is a key component to the alleged fraud committed by the Elder Ephraim and Elder Arsenios. Many observers allege that this is how the Nation of Greece was swindled in this land fraud.}

Interview with Trifona Mititzis, President of the Local Councils of Ouranoupolis: “I will dare say that this whole procedure of the land exchange marks the biggest financial scandal since the creation of the Greek State. Our area which represent 2.36% of the exchanged lands, was valued at 1,000,000 Euros, while its true value today, after it was rezoned two to three days before the signing of the contract, exceeds 1,000,000,000 Euros. We are always talking about the 2.36% of the exchanged lands in the name of Lake Vistonida which was assessed at 60,000,000 Euros.”

The assessors of the Certified Body of Assessors are presently accused for their role in this case. In a memorandum they sent to the Parliament three years ago responding to the revelations of our investigation that had became the object of an investigation committee they assert at some point the following: “It is obvious anyway, that the loss suffered by the State is not the result of the assessment of the market value of the properties by the Certified Body of Assessors, but of the change of the characteristics with which they were transferred, since in the exchange contracts the characteristics of these properties are different from those characteristics that were taken into account in their assessment reports.” The assessors are assessing a forest land which cannot be considered a forest because it has already been rezoned without their knowledge. This is the assessors’ excuse in their memorandum, which a private television station presented as a conclusion which does not recognize the State’s loss.

More of the interview with Konstantinos Loulis, former Governor of Mount Athos:Loulis: “One cannot claim a crime against the State when the Monastery is a public legal entity.”
Reporter: “Why do you say that?”
Loulis: “This is fundamental.”
Reporter: “If this land is claimed by the Public Phone Company or the Public Electricity Company or by the Water Company which are state organizations why can they not prove the one stole from the other? Why?”
Loulis: “It is inconceivable for us to say, for example let’s say there is an inactive military base that belongs to the Ministry of Defense and this base is given let’s say to the Municipality of Volos or Thessaloniki for an X amount. No one can come out and say that it was overvalued or undervalued against one or the other.”

More from the interview with Dimitris Tsironis, PASOK congressman: “Huge loss, a huge loss. The loss for the State from our calculations, but also from the existing reports from inspectors of the Public Administration, and the assessments that will ensue, rises to 1,000,000,000 Euros.
Many are of the opinion that no loss occurred since the Monastery is a public legal entity and that there can be no loss in transactions between state entities. This is a false claim though because the Church is independent and autonomous in the management of its financial affairs. Who approved the Monastery’s budget? Was it approved by the Ministry of Education and Religion? Or the way budgets of the Local Administrative Organizations are approved? The Church is independent, independent in financial issues. Yes, of course the Church is a public legal entity, as are all the Monasteries and the whole Church of Greece, but their financial administration is independent. Such a thing cannot exist especially since they entered into such transactions, real estate transactions, to sell and buy properties and set up businesses [for their own benefit].”

The way to evaluate the loss is quite simple. Since Vatopedi got land that belonged to the Greek State the loss is the value of the 260 properties that it got exchanging exactly that land. There are reports from the Internal Revenue Departments and other entities in the Court’s records.

After the Monks acquired the prime properties, the so call properties ‘fileta’, they decided to turn them into profitable business deals by selling them. In order to sell they had to offer a public invitation for the submission of offers. The Monastery’s lawyer Alexandros Chatzialexandrou appeared to proclaim an invitation for the submission of offers to purchase properties which he later proclaimed unfulfilled and the Monastery entered into a sale deal directly with the company ANTHEMIAS of the PAPISTAS GROUP. In 2008, we revealed that Chatzialexandrou, the lawyer for the Monastery, was also a shareholder of the company ANTHEMIAS. The company responded that it has no connection to the Monastery aside from the property sale. This was another of the holy lies. We later discovered that the Monastery had bought through the Cypriot offshore company MADEUS that it had created, a 30% share in the PAPISTAS group. The historic Monastery of Vatopedi not only takes land from the Greek State and people, but it also engages in a series of dubious business transactions by making itself a secret (invisible) shareholder in companies that purchase the land it is supposedly selling.

These revelations in 2008 resulted in the intervention of the Prosecutor’s Office. The two prosecutors Ilias Koliousis and Eleni Sotiropoulou, with whom we filed all of our reports and evidence, found evidence of misconduct by Ministers and asked to send the file to the Greek Parliament. The Supreme Court’s Prosecutor George Sanidas with the historic phrase “the Ministers were misled” tried to stop this move. The prosecutors resigned and a political mayhem ensued.

One of the resigned prosecutors, Prosecutor Ilias Koliousis decided to speak for the first time about the political game that nearly blinded justice.“After the summer vacations, we were informed, also through the mass media like the rest of the people, that the Prosecutor of the Arios Pagos had ordered an investigation concerning criminal actions by some people against the interests of the State through real estate transactions that benefited the Monastery of Vatopedi. A couple days later the Director of the Court of Appeals of Athens asked me and Eleni Sotiropoulou to examine this case. It is important, of course, to point out here that the order of the prosecutor of the Arios Pagos was from the beginning problematic. What was the problem? While he ordered the examination of the commission of a crime, at the same time he omitted targeting politicians. He was saying that the Ministers who signed the decisions which made Vatopedi richer at the expense of the public estate ‘were misled’.”

“No prosecutor or Judge has the right to evaluate the actions of a Minister or an Undersecretary. He had excluded the Ministers and he had done so arbitrarily. There was no previous judicial action. There was no previous investigation to support his decision that truly these persons had been misled and the case should be closed. And he had not initiated such an investigation or legal proceeding because the constitution explicitly forbids it. The prosecutor or the Judge if at any moment finds a Minister implicated in a criminal case he is obligated to without delay to refer the case to the Greek Parliament. He may not evaluate or exempt. This constitutes, we could say, the Achilles heel of the order of the then Prosecutor of the Arios Pagos. The evidence in the file does not support the claim that the Ministers were misled. It cannot be supported because there was no lawful filing and, there was no lawful filing because it is impossible to conduct one. The case could not stay with us to investigate since within a very short time any possible criminal responsibilities of the Ministers would be erased. In accordance with the constitution the judicial file should have been immediately sent to the Greek Parliament to inform its members of the issue and to avoid the erasure. And when we say without delay, we mean right away, as soon as the Judge or the prosecutor receives some evidence his is obligated, without delay, is to send it to the Parliament. Evidence was coming up, accusations were coming up, names were coming up and with names coming up, we could not keep the case in our hands and pretend there was nothing wrong.”

“Given the situation we, as prosecutors, were obliged to transfer the case to the Parliament. Here, I must add that our first hint to the then directing prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office in Athens received a positive response. He told us, and this is the common practice, he will not interfere with our work, he will transfer the case, as he has done all his life as a prosecutor and that he is not interested in who is responsible and for what and that the Parliament is the competent authority to deal with the issue. With these reassurances and with our report ready we believed that the case would go to the Parliament. Unfortunately some people are not very stable in their beliefs, and of course the legal elements can also be interpreted in a different way, so debate ensued about whether that the case should go to the Parliament. The prosecutor of the Arios Pagos tried many times to convince us it was not necessary to send the case to the Parliament. Four colleagues had already filed these accusations. The case had been filed in the past. And then the prosecutor of Arios Pagos withdraws the filing, which is absolutely illegal because the filing is temporary.”

“He withdraws it and finds not only the crimes were committed but also the perpetrators. He names the perpetrators but he also exempts some of them because he thinks they were misled. In a first evaluation of the situation, it was obvious that something was not right with the whole story. During the examination of the witnesses we had summoned, someone drew my attention to the withdrawal of the State and the Monastery from the judicial proceedings. He also asked us to pay attention to the withdrawal from the decision. How did it happen and under what conditions. Here hides the big secret of the story. This issue raised my suspicion that something else was going on. I called the case’s recommending Judge who is the person that would recommend the decision on the Vatopedi’s suit against the state. I talked to her and realized that the Judge had already talked to the prosecutor of the Arios Pagos and in some way confirmed that a decision had been issued, but had not been published.”

“I realized the prosecutor of the Arios Pagos had serious evidence in his hands in relation to the examination but had not shared it with me. He left us in the dark. I did not reveal to the recommending Judge that I was not aware of these events and I asked her to come to Athens in full secrecy for a deposition. Judge Sarakoglou, a very nice lady, flew in the following day, came to the Prosecutor’s Office and brought with her a copy of the decision, her recommendation which had already become a decision and was now part of the case’s judicial file. She explained to me how this decision was issued and how, while they were awaiting its publication at Vatopedi’s request, the State’s and Monastery’s lawyers requested a withdrawal.”
“I found this outrageous and tragic, tragic for the independence of the judicial system and for the actions of the Monks. A First Instance Court of our country, of a European country, has its judicial proceedings hindered on the basis of whether the Vatopedi Monks win or lose a case. This is outrageous, absolutely outrageous. After her deposition I thanked her and she left. Later I received calls from the Prosecutor’s Office in Arios Pagos with questions about her visit and whether she was deposed. We did not consider it wise to reveal any of our information since the other side had been hiding information important to our examination. Later a separate legal action was initiated against the Court’s Presiding Judge who was accused of leaking the issued decision and if I remember well, she admitted her contact with the Monks. We knew nothing about this.”

“We did not know that there was a court decision in favor of the State, we did not know there were judicial proceedings, and we thought the proceedings were interrupted because the parties withdrew. We found out the whole affair was concluded in fifteen days. At the Monks’ request, the Legal Council issued very quickly a recommendation, and very-very quickly a decision was issued and signed very-very fast by the Minister and the decision was delivered via courier to Vatopedi and the Court in order to end and delay the publication of the decision which the Presiding Judge had in her hands in order to properly document her judgment and publish it.”

“The above facts seriously impede the state’s withdrawal from a decision in its favor, especially since Minister Pavlopoulos in statements to the press, and if I remember well to the newspaper ‘Mahitis’, he was claiming that if the court does not issue an irrevocable decision the State will not give an inch of land to the Monks, while another Minister had signed the withdrawal from this decision.”

Reporter: “There is one issue with the government and Mr. Pavlopoulos and a second with Mr. Doukas who was reassuring the concerned public and the Bar Associations he will try his best when in fact he had already signed the decision to withdraw.”
Judge Koliousis: “Right, this is what happened. In our case they employed Byzantine methods, tricks, to stop us from filing our proposal with the Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Appeals in Athens. We were bitter but we also realized that there is no place for us to be in this service because the Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Appeals used extrajudicial methods.”
Reporter: “Do you mean Director Mr. Karouso?”
Judge Koliousis: “I mean the Presiding Director of the Prosecutor’s Office who tried to stop us because we were open with him, we had nothing to hide, and we told him what we were planning to do. Because he knew, he had the opportunity to take away the case file from us before we were able to register our report which would be transferred with the case file to the Prosecutor’s Office. For me this is an illegal action. Why? Well because he did not allow two prosecutors of the Court of Appeal to register their opinion in a case.”

“He removed the case file from us for one week and returned it asking us, disregarding the ‘without delay’ requirement in the constitution, to take additional actions in our examination. He was asking us to proceed with the lifting of the confidentiality on all the accounts. Even after three years, I doubt if they have lifted the confidentiality on all the accounts. If we had followed his orders all the responsibility of all political persons involved in the affair would have been erased while the case was still in our hands. And you understand that the erasing of responsibilities in the hands of a prosecutor spells trouble with a tiny little provision about the abuse of power. We did not accept to continue an examination in a case for which we already had the opinion it should be referred to the Greek Parliament. So, we resigned {emphasis added by the Editor}, we are comfortable with how we handled the issue. I have remained out of the Prosecutor’s Office since then and I have not be there even for a visit.”

The scandal of Vatopedi is a political and a financial scandal. 32 people were prosecuted and among them are Elder Ephraim and the Director of the Prime Minister’s Political Office, Mr. Agelou. Some say all this is happening for some unknown reasons or because some want to attack Mount Athos. What we have in our hands are the financial activities of the Monastery of Vatopedi as they have been registered with the Bank of Greece. It is certain that no other Monastery in Greece has ever been engaged in this kind of activities and that’s why they have not come to our attention.

VATOPEDI’S MULTIMILLION EURO REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS AND FUNDING

In 1999, Vatopedi purchases with a 2,300,000 Euro loan from Emboriki Bank a property at 23 Kalirois Street in Athens.

The same year with a loan of 2,000,000,000 Drachmas from the bank Ergasias it purchases from Babis Vovos SA the property on 7 Kifisias Street.

With a loan of 900,000 Euros from Emporiki a property on 17-19 Sinopis street (represented by Monk Evdokimos) is purchased.

With a 550,000 Euros loan from Emporiki a property at 4 Selinoundos street.

With a 5,869,405.72 Euro loan from Emboriki the Monastery purchased from Babis Vovos SA a property at 32 Aigialeias street.

In the beginning of the decade of 2000, the Monastery purchases more properties with loans for an undisclosed purpose. It continues with similar investments from 2005 through 2008.

Konstantinos Loulis (former Governor of Mount Athos) in one part of his interview with the investigating reporter when asked about the Monastery’s plethora of real estate transactions especially from 2005 to 2008 responds that there is nothing wrong with the story. He maintains that these Monks like other businessmen have specific goals, like the Monastery’s restoration, the building of the Library and preservation of natural surroundings, and they are very wisely trying to secure the capital. When the reporter responds that they are Monks and not businessmen he insists that their grand and inspired plan for the Monastery is what guides them.

The Monastery gets loans, buys properties but makes no restorations. The argument that it is gathering money for the restoration is not valid. The Monastery of Vatopedi receives huge grants from the government even for agricultural cultivations. From 2006 to 2008, according to the records of the Bank of Greece, Vatopedi’s financial picture is as follows:

a) Receives government financing amounting to 5, 947,353.88 Euros
b) Has rental income of 9,160,114.1 Euros
c) Receives financing from other creditors of 9,261,300.80 Euros while it keeps getting loans to pay other loans and
d) Cash of 1,342,021.09 Euros.

This totals to 25,710,798.22 Euros (at today’s exchange rate about $40,000,000).

It received grants from the European Union by signing up for programs like restorations, building of libraries, etc.:

• In 1997 50,000,000 Drachmas from Laliotis
• In 1999 441,000,000 Drachmas from Konstantinos Vretos
• In 1999 996,000,000 Drachmas from Konstantinos Pahtas
• 90,000,000 and 70,000,000 Drachmas from Yannis Makriotis and Giorgos Paschalidis, respectively.

In 2007 just before the scandal of Vatopedi was revealed, the Monastery, according to the documents of the Bank of Greece, makes two curious property purchases from an offshore company, TORCASO INVESTMENT LTD. It buys with a 3,700,000 Euros loan a property on Traka Street and with a 6,000,000 Euros loan another property of TORCASO again on 7 Kifisias street.

What is TORCASO? It is a Cypriot company established in 1999 whose owner appears to be Nikolaos Zigras. This company became known from the sale of a property on Dionysiou Areopagiti Street at least on paper, to another offshore company which then sold it to the family of Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos (of the PASOK political party, he served in many positions, including as Minister of Defense). This is the property for which Akis Tsohatzopoulos is investigated. Zigras is also Tsohatzopoulos’s cousin. Vatopedi pays the money, though, to a businessman named Sahpatzidis who claims to be Torcaso’s owner. The network of companies involved in deals with Torcaso is presently being investigated for bribes related to the sale of arms.

Interview with Dimitris Tsironis (Senator, PASOK): “TORCASO is a company that bought some properties implicated in money laundering in the amount of 1,000,000 Euros that he withdrew, I think, from Emboriki Bank. One wonders how today one can go to the bank to deposit a check, withdraw money and no one will do anything, these are third world practices from our banks. We have legislation {Laws}, we have regulations, but no one follows them. The Bank of Greece is mostly responsible to supervise and monitor the activities of the credit companies {the Bank of Greece is responsible for review of all Bank practices and compliance monitoring of all Banks operating in Greece. It is exactly what the FDIC or State Regulators do in the United States in monitoring Bank compliance, Editors’ note State’s claims from its rights despite a decision favorable to its interests and that he acted with duplicity.

With these illegal actions, Vistonida is delivered to Vatopedi. Ephraim does not build a Byzantine village {Elder Ephraim had planned to build an Orthodox Style amusement park or an “Orthodox Disneyland” for Orthodox tourists} while the government machine continues to work.

In his interview Konstantinos Loulis, [former Governor of Mount Athos] when asked about the Monastery’s relationship to TORCASO, admits that his information about the case is limited. He did not study the relevant documents and [claims that he] is not aware of the details, but, [still he] was sure the Monastery just happened to buy some properties, after having made sure the titles were clear, from a company that happened to be investigated for certain crimes and that this does not implicate Vatopedi in any form or shape.

[Here are included some excerpts from documents used as a background during the broadcast of this program]

1. “The total amount of financing approved for the Monastery of Vatopedi rose to 176,000,000 Euros. These contracts mention as a purpose of the financing ‘the financing with capital to cover Vatopedi’s investment needs for investments the bank will propose and the credited party will select”.

2. “The account No 0127490427 MARFIN EGNATIA (prior account of the same bank 00272533021197). This is the main account of the Monastery of Vatopedi in the above bank that was opened on 18/3/2006 credited the 17/3/06 through a Bank check issued by Emboriki for the amount of 75,000 Euros. This account is credited primarily with withdrawals from funds financed by the bank to the Monastery of Vatopedi in the amount of 127,820,780 Euros for the period 17/03/06 to 01/10/08.

3. The funds were placed as follows:
a) Total amount of 44,420,780 Euros was invested through the company RASSA DEL LTD to buy shares and for similar investments.
b) 50,000,000 Euros was provided on 28/06/2001 for the Monastery’s participation in increasing the capital of the MARFIN INVESTMENT GROUP.
c) The amount of 10,458,380 Euros was provided on 19/12/2007 to pay off the Monastery’s loan from the investing bank.
d) 500,000 Euros were transferred on 7/12/2006 to the account of RASSADEL Co LTD.
e) On 19/04/06 the account was credited with the amount of 705,000 Euros transferred from their bank account with Emporiki. The same day this amount was deposited in RASSADEL’S account with MARFIN EGNATIA BANK. The same day this amount was transferred abroad as follows: 502,000 Euros to DRESDNER BANK Hamptbahnkof, Munich, Germany, 200,000 Euros to HYPO ALPE ADRIA BANK AD, Belgrade, Serbia in the name of SASA GERUM. It is believed that this transfer of funds involves the purchase of the Company GERUM, supposedly the owner of a property in Belgrade. RASSADEL CO sells this company with the sale contract.

Editor’s Note: Here are the links to the two episodes of Pandora’s Box:

The episode that is the subject matter of this article is linked below as “Part one (or A). Carefully watch this broadcast in its entirety. Realize that this scandal has importance beyond the money and the compromised individuals that are involved in it. Could it be that the deteriorating condition of our beloved Faith has an “enemy” that has determined how to corrupt and destroy it from within? After watching both episodes perhaps the picture may begin to get clearer.

Part one (or A) : http://www.ert.gr/webtv/index.php/component/k2/item/1659-το-βατοπέδι-σε-νούμερα-μέρος-α΄.html

Part two (or B) : http://www.ert.gr/webtv/index.php/component/k2/item/1933-%CF%84%CE%BF-%CE%B2%CE%B1%CF%84%CE%BF%CF%80%CE%AD%CE%B4%CE%B9-%CF%83%CE%B5-%CE%BD%CE%BF%CF%8D%CE%BC%CE%B5%CF%81%CE%B1-%CE%BC%CE%AD%CF%81%CE%BF%CF%82-%CE%B2%CE%84.html