PANDORA’S BOX VATOPEDI SCANDAL (Part 2)

By dogcatcher on August 26th, 2012

 

Editors’ notes:

The Editors of Gotruthreform.org have long felt that the events which surround the Vatopedi Monastery scandal are and should be a major concern to all who 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.

Why is it important for those who 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. Not all of the money generated by these transactions has 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 only 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 suggested that the Vatopedi Monastery plays a key role in the funding of this extreme movement within our Faith in the U.S. and Canada.

In this second article, we deliver to our readers a translated transcription of the second report that 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 as extraordinarily close to the Greek original as possible. In some sections of this article, a clearly marked accurate synopsis of the interviews and commentary contained in the broadcast are provided as explanatory text.
In the interest of accuracy, the text has not always been modified to make it easy to read in English, so as not to disturb the exact language or intent of the speaker. We have added “Editors notes” to aid the reader’s understanding of and to provide context to 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 Greek ERT broadcast of Pandora’s Box. The broadcasts aired by the ERT Network {Greek Radio and Television} is in two parts. We suggest that readers read this article first and then watch the broadcast in its original.

Finally at the end of this article there will be an additional Editors’ note with questions that all Faith abiding Orthodox Christians should ask themselves. We have received many emails from the Faithful alleging contact between our Greek Orthodox Hierarchs and some of the people mentioned in this article. We are going to publish these emails, with the writers’ permission, at such time when we believe that the Church is incapable of “repairing” the damage that is ongoing from the Ephraimite movement. Clearly the behavior of our leaders should be examined.

The translation of the broadcast begins:

Quote from video clip of Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis addressing the Greek Parliament:
“…This brings me to the scandals related to Vatopedi. Forgetting their spiritual mission, some have operated against the interests of the country… I ought to say, and I outright admit it that I underestimated the issue…I know that the scandalous events at Vatopedi have hurt the citizens. I forthrightly assume our share of responsibility…”

Kostas Baxevanis – Journalist reporting the Vatopedi scandal for Pandora’s Box on ERT – (HELLENIC RADIO AND TELEVISION)

Good evening. In December of 2008, the political world along with the then Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis start referring to the revelations of transactions and actions related to the monastery of Vatopedi in Mount Athos as a scandal. A group of monks from the monastery of Vatopedi use the government machine and politicians to acquire public lands to, as they claim, take care of the monastery’s interests. Politicians and the government machine hasten to expeditiously carry out all of their requests. The monastery’s welfare is used again as an excuse to open offshore companies and to create an intricate web of bank accounts and transactions moving money around, making it very difficult to track them.

You will learn how they moved money around and how the advertising of a miracle resulted in a 300,000 Euros deposit in a certain account. You will learn how the banks lent hundreds of millions to Vatopedi in order to then raise their own capital stock. You will also learn that the Vatopedi team and some businessmen created joint companies to buy properties with fake transactions causing price inflation. The investigation into the legality of Vatopedi’s transactions is a monumental, an almost impossible, task.

Experts will need years to investigate everything thoroughly. You will also listen to an important testimony of a person implicated in this scandal. She will describe the political maneuverings and of course you will hear about Vatopedi’s circle of lost friends now prosecuted for serious crimes.

Whereas Vatopedi’s history is full of legends and extraordinary religious spirituality, its very recent history includes a series of political and financial transactions, conspiracies and the adoration of bank deposits. It took years for the scandal of Vatopedi to touch the solid ground created by a powerful web of connections and communications. After the scandal was revealed, we learned that from 2007 to 2008 the monastery raised capital amounting to 360,000,000 Euros, amounts the biggest companies in Greece do not move around.

From Interview with Yannis Matzouranis – Lawyer.


Yannis Matzouranis:
“Using their political influence, the administrators of Vatopedi manage to secure from the administrations of PASOK (Socialist Party) and NEA DEMOKRATIA (the Center Right Wing Party) two administrative decisions bestowing on the monastery ownership rights over Lake Vistonida and the lands around it. The monastery’s ownership claim is very ambiguous and a highly disputed issue, this being a very lenient evaluation, versus the Greek State’s certain and definite ownership from 1930 and on. Because an administrative recognition of ownership can be revoked the same way it was created, with another administrative act, the monastery turned to the courts to obtain a judicial decision to obtain unequivocal ownership rights to the land of Vistonida. Their unsuccessful endeavors were followed by the ridiculous events related to the withdrawal of the parties …”

The core of the scandal per se begins in April of 2004. The monastery had taken the Greek State to court claiming ownership right over the Vistonida lands. The court decided in favor of the Greek State with a 2:1 vote. On the 21st of April the decision was handed to the Court’s President Mrs. Maria Psalti who sat on it and appears to have informed Ephraim and Arsenios of the negative decision in order to allow them to make their next legal move. This is the historic decision 87 of 2008 of the Court of First Instance of Rodopi. Judges Miltiadis Jiovanopoulos and Georgia Sakaloglou decide that Vistonida belongs to the Greek State. The President of the Court who had the minority vote delays the publication of the decision. The Court, the only competent authority to settle ownership disputes, issues its decision settling the dispute over the Vistonida lands, but then the decision disappears. The Deputy Minister Petros Doukas, ignoring the Court’s decision, orders the legal representatives of the Greek State to withdraw from their claims and issues his ministerial decision granting the Vistonida lands to Vatopedi.

From Interview with Kontantinos Loulis – Member of the Association of the Friends of the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi.
Konstantinos Loulis: “…The history of the issue is complicated, full of twists and turns, but the truth is plain and clear…”

Kostas Baxevanis: “But why would a Greek politician, why would the then Deputy Minister Mr. Doukas intervene, when the Court, the competent authority to settle these disputes, had issued a decision in favor of the State, by having the State retract its claims and issuing his own decision, supposedly based on the opinions of the Legal Counsel?”

Konstantinos Loulis: “You should ask Mr. Doukas, I cannot answer for him”.

Kostas Baxevanis: “But do you consider this natural…?”

We did ask Mr. Doukas, who initially agreed to an interview but later cancelled. He sent us his previously published positions which he claims are supported by the prior opinions of the State’s Legal Councils. All those who signed these opinions are now being prosecuted while Mr. Doukas and the other Ministers, Mr. Basiakos and Mr. Kondos, who later coordinated the exchange of the Vistonida lands with prime public lands, can no longer be prosecuted.

From the Interview with Dimitris Tsironis – Member of Parliament for PASOK


Dimitris Tsironis:
“The judicial process was impeded and if you remember we had strongly argued against the early closing of the parliamentary synod on May 9th of 2009 by the Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. The closing of the synod provided immunity to those politicians who were involved in the affair. They should have kept the parliamentary synod open until the scandal was fully investigated and those found responsible were charged for their criminal acts.”

32 people are being prosecuted by the justice system and not one of them is a political person. Among the accused are Ephraim and Arsenios. They are accused of having orchestrated the takeover of the Vistonida lands and the subsequent exchange with prime public lands. Matina Mandeli, the Director of the Department of Public Lands of the Ministry of Agriculture, is also facing charges. She is an experienced employee and a rank and file member of Nea Demokratia. She is accused of having damaged the Greek State by providing assistance to the Vatopedi team. Here, for the first time, Ms. Mandeli describes the scandal of Vatopedi as the sum of political interventions and manipulations committed by both political parties.

From the Interview with Matina Mandeli.


Matina Mandeli:
“Minister Beis called me in 2003 and told me that Mr. Arsenios from the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi will visit my office to talk to me about a certain issue and, as I also testified during my deposition and in the Court, he never said anything about Vatopedi, nor did he say go ahead, do this or do that.
Mr. Arsenios came, it was the first time we met, and started talking about the issue of their claim to the Vistonida lands because of the titles they possessed. He had a small folder containing some correspondence related to the trial, but there were no golden seals and things like that. I explained to him that he needed to follow the procedures provided in regulations 242 and 246 of the agricultural legislation according to which anyone claiming ownership rights for lands administered and owned by the Ministry of Agriculture, should refer their case to the Local Expropriations Committee for a decision in the first degree, and if they lose then they can appeal the decision in the Court of Appeals. He concealed from me that they had already taken their case to the Expropriations Committee and to the justice system, but I was aware of it because I had sent the paper in 2003. I was aware of the trial. Well, he thanked me and left. ”

Kostas Baxevanis: “What was their request?”

Matina Mandeli: “What could we as the central administrative office do for their case? I told him that we were not the competent authority, and that the only competent authority would be the Department of Agriculture, the Local Departments of Agriculture, that they should turn to them for resolution of their issue.
Then comes 2004, after the withdrawal from the trial, that I was not aware of, and to be precise on October 18, 2004, came Arsenio’s letter to Mr. Basiakos.

Kostas Baxevanis; “He sends you the letter that…”

Matina Mandeli: “From the Director of the Office of Mr. Basiakos to take every legal action…”

Kostas Baxevanis: “He forwarded the letter?”

Matina Mandeli: “Like the many items sent to me from the Minister’s office…”

Kostas Baxevanis: “I can understand that the Minister’s office will forward a request but to…”

Matina Mandeli: {reading from a document} “To the Department of Public Lands attached is the 348 document of the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi…”

Kostas Baxevanis: “And he sent you the actual letter from Arsenios?”

Matina Mandelis: “He sends the letter that talks about a lot of things and in page 2 in the beginning it mentions why the monastery owns the lands and so on… and that the Ministry of Economics owns lands, as you can see they had done their homework, as well as the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Agriculture.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “They were thoroughly informed.”

Matina Mandeli: “Of course.”

Long before any decision on the exchange of the lands was issued, Arsenios and the rest of the Vatopedi team know exactly the properties each Ministry had jurisdiction over. The worse is that Arsenios in his letter to the Minister Mr. Basiakos informs him that “…the potential of finding properties for the exchange is already being pursued given that such properties are owned by the Ministry of Economics, Defense and Agriculture. The fact that the land exchange procedure has already been accepted by the higher government echelons guarantees its realization.”
Not only did the Minister accept Arsenios’ recommendations but he forwards the monk’s letter officially to the Departments of the Ministry expecting them to proceed accordingly, as if this letter was another Government document.

From Interview with Matina Mandeli.


Matina Mandeli:
“But before this date I had received an order from the political leadership to request through my office a report from the departments of the Ministry of Agriculture on properties with real estate and tourist value. At this point I need to clarify that, yes, the Ministry owns properties but by law their management and administration is in the hands of the local agricultural agencies. For example, I do not know all the changes in the data of each department of agriculture, because they result also from decisions by governors and general secretaries without informing us. As I said, the Local Agricultural Departments are responsible for the administration of those lands.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “Did Mr. Kondos ask you that?”

Matina Mandeli: “Obviously Mr. Basiakos was also aware of this…”

Kostas Baxevanis: “Mr. Kondos asked…”

Matina Mandeli: “Mr. Kondos asked me in person, and that was my mistake. I trusted the political leadership completely because I was a member of the party and I had a very good relationship, especially with Mr. Kondos. I trusted them, I thought that possibly they were conducting some kind of land registration, as we had done in the past.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “You did not connect it to Vatopedi?”

Matina Mandeli: “Later thinking more logically, or more suspiciously, I thought it had to be related to the plan they were preparing, because the political leadership had not yet issued its decisions.”

Two decisions were issued to facilitate the exchange of the Vistonida land with other expensive, marketable prime State properties. Everything happened in an expedited manner without the usual bureaucratic delays.

From Interview with Matina Mandeli.


Matina Mandeli:
“The ministerial decision was mailed to my office from 2 Aharnon str. to 108 Peiraios str. where our Department was located, because I was not housed with the Central Administration. So it was sent to me in the mail and I recorded and filed it properly.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “What did the decision say?”

Matina Mandeli: “It said that based on such and such opinions, and it was then that I realized that there were numerous opinions by Mr. Dris… and by Mr. Fotiades…there was a referral not a recall – {Mr. Fotiades had signed in 2003 a decision giving the Vistonida lands to Vatopedi, but later, after pressures by officials in Xanthi and its people he referred the case to the Recommendation Council of the Ministry of Economics instead of recalling the decision} – as well as the last opinion of the Legal Council that I was not aware of and had not been consulted about. Anyway, it further said that in accordance with the above, the monastery of Vatopedi had the ownership rights to Vistonida and that the Ministry should find available properties for the exchange. I forwarded the decision to the Hellenic Real Estate Corporation (HREC) and as I ought to do as the responsible Department together with the Local Agricultural Departments, together as the managers of the available and public land we had to find the properties and to send our report to HREC the only entity competent to conduct the exchange…In 2006, the second ministerial decision was issued. Again, for the second time, they bypassed the hierarchy. Usually ministerial decisions are based on plans put together by the individual departments of the Ministries or their various general departments with reviewers’ boxes that the respective sponsor, senior supervisor, director, general director, general secretary, deputy minister and minister would check off indicating that they had reviewed the decision. So I did not participate in this one either. That’s how Mr. Basiakos wanted it. They called me in asking me to personally undertake this task as the director of the Department. I was advised to keep all correspondence, anything coming in or going out, filed in my office. I was to handle and process all issues pertaining to the monastery very fast and with no objections.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “Who called you?”

Matina Mandeli: “The call came from Mr. Basiakos’s office. So the second ministerial decision that I was not part of was sent to me, and now I had two decisions to enforce because of my position as director of the materially competent authority, and I enforced them.”

From interview with Yannis Matzouranis – Lawyer.


Yannis Matzouranis:
“Suddenly, two political parties decide in record time that Lake Vistonida and its shore lands belong to the monastery. The whole government machine is set in motion to find expensive properties in prime locations to exchange with the Vistonida lands to the benefit of Vatopedi. And when the monks do not like the properties they cancel the contracts, they choose new ones and exchange them for just thousandths of the lake’s area and the lakeshore properties which were both appraised [as they saw fit]. For example the lake was appraised as if the whole lake was a huge fish farm where the best and most expensive fish are raised and the whole production then is sold out every year at the best possible price. Meanwhile prior more accurate and realistic appraisals by the Department of Fishing of the Ministry of Agriculture had had set the price at some thousands of Euros a year.”

They choose their properties and when later they discover better ones they return them and get the new ones. In one of their scouting trips they came across properties at Grammatiko {mountainous village in east Attica} for which they had inside information that these properties will be incorporated in the city plans. They returned other properties in order to get these specific ones. They did the same thing with the Olympic Village {residences for the Olympic athletes built at the northern suburb of Athens Thrakomakedones} which they discovered too late. They operate as if they are the State proper.

From the Interview with Matina Mandelis.


Matina Mandelis:
“The did the first exchange contract let’s say for ten properties in Chalkidiki, then they said we do not want them, take them back, HREC, and piece by piece, with what they gave back they got the Olympic property…I cannot deny that Arsenios came to my office many times. With 20 employees in my office, there was no place to hide him. I could not meet him at midnight, he came during the day and in particular on the issue of Ouranoupolis in front of me from his cell he would brag that he knew Yannis Angelou or Theodore Roussopoulos. He knew about the reshuffling in the Government, who would be in it, who would be the next ministers. He would tell me not to worry, because I had mentioned that Mr. Basiakos was treating me badly, I did not lie about him treating me badly, that he maybe did because I disagreed with him, not just about Vatopedi, but about other issues too. I would not always just say ‘yes sir’. So, Arsenios would tell me not to worry and that other ones would come. He knew what was going on, he called them in front of me, Yanni, Theodore we’ll drink, we’ll eat! Yes, I met with them in my office because they constantly wanted to know how the case was going, there was great pressure and from Arsenios as well…At first I was deposed as a witness by Mrs. Spiropoulou. My second deposition was about Grammatiko. Of course, before my deposition I told them to get my phone records and I submitted my resignation. Mr. Kondos called me, something I forgot to mention to the prosecutor, just for the record, and he told me that he had me covered, he was very polite, not threatening, he said I should be careful what I say and so on. I gave my deposition for Grammatiko too and then I met with the inquiry committee. At this point I was being reassured by the political leadership that they had me covered…”

Kostas Baxevanis: “what do you mean?”

Matina Mandeli: “Well, the political leadership in a Ministry, you know who I am talking about, all of the political leadership”.
Reporter: “The Minister, the Assistant Minister…”

Matina Mandeli: “All of the political leadership. I was reassured that nothing would happen to me, be careful what are you going to say and so on, that what happened was not his fault, that we did not do anything wrong, we just sent the properties and that is why I had this position…So, while I was giving my second deposition to Mrs. Spiropoulou, a team from Mr. Kondos’ office was searching my records from 2004 in case they found a piece of paper, as if he would understand, they were also searching my closets! After my session with Mrs. Spiropoulou, my co-workers called me and said we need to let you know what is going on here. Well you understand who I was dealing with, top government people, ministers and deputy ministers!…I get very upset when I talk about Vatopedi, because for me it was, it is and will continue to be till I die a life in hell, I have hurt my family and myself but God gives me strength to endure.”

This is one side of the scandal. The other side is equally fascinating.
The Vatopedi team appears to sell properties in order to get money for the ‘good of the monastery’. But the properties are sold to companies whose shareholders are off-shore companies that belong to them. Behind the dark world of the companies is Vatopedi. Ephraim’s group created two off shore companies ‘RASSADEL’ and ‘MADEUS’ in Cyprus. When the revelation of the Vatopedi scandal was followed by the revelation of the off-shore companies’ scandal, the Cypriot businessman Anthos Kiranides presented himself, even before the investigating committees, as the sole shareholder of the above companies. When later the investigation into the bank accounts revealed that money was being moved to the monastery of Vatopedi, Mr. Kiranides recanted and said that the off-shore companies belonged to the monastery.

Ephraim in a Videotaped Statement: “…and how saddened we were, when we too, became the target of this slanderous war. Supposedly we were there at Vatopedi to engage in business ventures. Then why do we go there? If we wanted what they are all claiming would we be there or at Wall Street? I don’t know where we would be, somewhere else.”

Through these two off-shore companies, the Vatopedi group, with the help of the company of the Papistas Group, finally bought the prime properties from the monastery.

From interview with Emmanuel Bendeniotis – PASOK Member of Parliament.


Emmanuel Bendeniotis:
“There’s a title ‘The business activities of a holy monastery from Mount Athos strangely outside and beyond the logic of any Orthodox Christian citizen’.”

From Interview with Konstantinos Loulis.


Konstantinos Loulis:
“I will reply to you, we know very well that, and we all know this, that the Catholic Church’s and the Vatican’s dynamic growth was achieved with the creation of sound financial foundation and economic growth. This is why the Catholic Church’s flock is ten times bigger than that of the Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church’s missionary work in Africa and Asia and in the American Continent was made possible by its solid financial foundation. Nothing would have been done without it.”

Reporter: “This is how you justify what happened? Are you saying that Ephraim and his group engaged in real estate business in the most unseemly fashion, I do not want to say illegal as this is for the justice to decide with the 32 defenders going to trial, in order to make money to buy a second coat and materialize the Christian principle he who has two tunics should give to him who has none?”

Konstantinos Loulis: “No, that’s not what I’m saying, in no way…”

When Vatopedi intensified its financial activities in the years 2007 and 2008, using the excuse that the money was needed for the monastery, its income just from rent and subsidies, according to the records of the Bank of Greece, rose to 16,410,126.04 Euros. During the same period it was also expecting to receive a portion of the 25,000,000 Euros financing promised by the Prime Minister.

Quote from Video Clip of Konstantinos Karamanlis during his visit to Mount Athos: “We are here to support your great work. As you are aware the amount of 25,000,000 Euros has been granted…” It seems though that the income of 20,000,000 Euros is not enough for the Ephraim group nor the illegal acquisition of Lake Vistonida. So, in 2007 and 2008 as per evidence from the Bank of Greece, the monastery of Vatopedi is funded with 360,813,250.88 Euros.

Quote from Video Clip with excerpt from Ephraim’s speech at the Open University of Katerini, School for 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-interest, his foundation is the denouncement of secular life. The monk embraces a life without possessions…”

Vatopedi’s financial activities are a complete departure from the practices of all the other monasteries of Mount Athos. The Banks of the MARFIN GROUP are the source of the capital flow to the monastery. The monastery receives from the banks a loan of 157,000,000 Euros but 115,000,000 Euros of this loan is returned to companies of the Group as a capital share increase or for the purchase of shares of the Group’s companies. Reports from the Bank of Greece show that within the period from 30/6/2006 (June 30, 2006) to 8/8/2008 (August 8, 2008), the monastery received through its off-shore companies 156,988,000 Euros. The bank had approved a total of 173,600,000 Euros but they did not use all of it. The reason behind the loan is “the financing of the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi with working capital to help it cover its investment needs.” The investor Vatopedi got this loan to invest it as follows:

• 30,200,000 Euros towards the capital increase of MARFIN INVESTMENT GROUP (MIG),

• 6,300,000 Euros to buy shares of the HYGEIA Medical Group again of the MIG,

• 4,790,000 Euros for shares of the MARFIN POPULAR BANK, an important banking arm of MIG,

• 10,400,000 Euros to buy shares of VIVARTIA a company purchased by MIG,

• 4,000,000 Euros for shares of SINGULAR LOGIC, a company of MIG,

• 21,700,000 Euros to pay off a previous loan of the investing bank, related again to MIG,

• 22,700,000 Euros to buy more shares of MIG,

• 30,000,000 Euros to buy shares of the Greek Telecommunications Company (OTE) during the period of September 12 to September 14, 2007, in order to sell them right after the elections of September 20th.

From the Interview with Bendeniotis:“And this raises some questions, at least as one of the managers of an off-shore company pointed out in his deposition to the investigating committee, the fact that a monastery receives a loan in order to buy shares in OTE which then are immediately sold, and today OTE belongs to a foreign company. This is something that should have us thinking.”

From the Interview with Dimitris Tsironis – PASOK Member of Parliament:“From the money they got from selling the shares of OTE after the 2009 elections, because they wanted to play this game through the elections, they buy one week before the elections and they sell one week after the elections the monastery’s shares, so, from the 30,000,000 Euros that they got 20,000,000 Euros were given to buy two hedge funds of the MARFIN POPULAR BANK in Cyprus. This is how they closed the circle. The circle opened and then it closed, a little differently, but with the same people, the same companies, the same methods.”

In total the monastery’s investments in MIG and its companies rose to 115,537,379.12 Euros. From the remaining loan it disbursed the following amounts:

• 6,000,000 Euros were given to the off-shore company TORCASO to buy a property.

• 15,000,000 Euros were given for shares of the company PAPISTAS.

• 600,015 Euros went for shares of the company ANTHEMIAS of the PAPISTAS GROUP, the company that bought some of the properties acquired through the land exchange deal. MARFIN BANK and MIG had nothing to say to us about the money they received, especially after having given huge loans to Vatopedi, they just pointed out that all transactions were legal.

From the Interview with Dimitiris Tsironis:“To say that all was legal, that they were covered and there were guarantees and so on, of course this is debatable. Simply stated the Bank and MIG and its companies used the monastery also for its tax exemptions that it enjoys in its stock market transactions, as do the rest of the Mount Athos monasteries. They used the monastery to play games in order to fool mostly the investors by showing huge capital increases which in reality were bogus. The 5,200,000,000 Euros increase was bogus because the loans they gave ‘to friendly individuals’, besides the monastery, rose to 850,000,000 Euros of which 732,000,000 Euros were actually used. These numbers were given to us from the Bank of Greece and they are indisputable. So the loans were given by MARFIN BANK to buy shares in companies of MIG. Some claim that MIG and MARFIN BANK, then EGNATIA BANK, are not related and that is just a small percentage relationship, a laughable argument since both belong to the same interest group.”

From the Interview with Bendeniotis:“… tens of millions. You have read about Vatopedi’s financial transactions in the report of the Bank of Greece which is very revealing. There is collateral security for only part of the loans, which by the way are used to buy shares, they are stock market transactions, an activity that I dare say is not a Christian behavior or expression and especially when Cypriot companies are involved.”

There are lots of questions. How did the Bank give to the monastery a loan guaranteed by RASSADEL, Vatopedi’s offshore company, since it was not a legal entity back then and with a capital of barely 1,000 Cypriot Pounds? It accepted as a guarantee the shares it bought, this can happen, but did it ask as a guarantee the difference in shares when their price dropped? What is the Bank going to do now that the loan cannot be paid off and has become obvious that no real collateral exists at all. Why did the Bank of Greece and the rest of the auditing committees allow this to happen when it was jeopardizing the banking system?

From the Interview with Dimitris Tsironis:“There was very loose oversight by the oversight authorities and the state’s audit mechanisms like the Bank of Greece, the Stock Market Commission and the Athens Stock Exchange. They did not enforce the regulations set by the law and by them; they did not follow their own guidelines on the enforcement of these regulations and the law. The oversight was very loose. They did nothing while the scandal was growing bigger by the day.”

The Monastery got involved in real estate through its own companies or companies it participated in. These companies are suspected by the authorities of being part of a money laundering system.
Vatopedi’s off shore company buys in 2007 a property in Belgrade from the company SASA GERUM for 704,500 Euros. A year later it sells the same property to the company DIGITAL PRINTING CENTER for 2,450,000 Euros, 3.5 times higher in price.
The companies of PAPISTAS, partners of the monastery, buy 3 properties that had been sold even the same day for a second time, through Jordan Papaioanou. The PAPISTAS GROUP buys at a price many times higher than Papaioanou did. Furthermore, the money does not go to Papaioanou but to the previous seller. They bought:

• A property in Thessaloniki on Stratigou Sarafi Str. for 6,759,000 Euros. This property had been sold earlier the same day for 3,600,000 Euros.

• A property in the county of Kordelio from Papaioanou for 1,500,000 Euros, which Papaioanou had bought five days earlier for 500,000 Euros.

• A property in Thermi, Thessaloniki for 9,530,000 Euros. This property was sold twice the same day, the first time for 5,000,000 Euros.

Later during his deposition, Papaioanou admitted that he acted as a surrogate in these real estate transactions of the PAPISTAS GROUP.

From interview with Konstantinos Loulis:
Konstantinos Loulis:
“Vatopedi had the ambition to make…” (Interrupted)

Kosta Baxevanis: “But it did not do it…” (Interrupted)

Konstantinos Loulis: “How could it have made it since right from the beginning they closed its accounts, they froze them…” (Interrupted)

Kostas Baxevanis: “But look, Vatopedi asked for the land in order to build the Byzantine Village and it did not build it. Then Vatopedi got loans…” (Interrupted)

Dimitiris Loulis: “But how could it have built it. Everything would have been done, the Byzantine Village…” (Interrupted)

Kostas Baxevanis: “Listen to me for a moment. The monastery received money, it got loans and it bought a building in Athens and then another one through ANTHEMIAS in Thessaloniki. One day, one buyer buys it for 250,000 Euros and then the second buyer ANTHEMIAS buys it five days later for 1,500,000 Euros. Within five days the price went up a 1,000,000 Euros. It received 150,000,000 Euros, why didn’t Vatopedi use the money to build the Athoniada instead of buying MARFIN shares?”

Konstantinos Loulis: “I am saying one thing, you say one day this the other day that very well the Church of Greece about two years ago sold from its portfolio its share in Ethniki, then some days later bought them again in order to sell again and so on.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “Why is this good?”

Konstantinos Loulis: “Well they made money this way in order to feed 30,000 people daily, how else can you finance such a project to feed 30,000 people daily?”

Kostas Baxevanis: “From the day Ephraim and Arsenios began getting loans to save Vatopedi…” (Interrupted)

Loulis: “Did they want those loans for their own personal gain? This is important. No! It is important. No, they wanted the loans for one and only reason to build Vatopedi’s Library, to preserve and sort 100,000 volumes of old books from the tenth century.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “The loans did not go there. They were used to buy MIG shares. Whatever they got from the real estate…” (Interrupted)

Konstantinos Loulis: “But they did not let them, in the end…” (Interrupted)

The monastery’s financial transactions are still being investigated by the Prosecutor, the Financial Crimes Authority and the Bank of Greece. All the accounts have been frozen but the comprehensive and in depth investigation of Vatopedi’s transactions, deposits and withdrawals from their accounts, is a difficult and time consuming task. In some cases monks received millions of Euros in bags without alerting the banking system’s controls.

From Interview with Bendeniotis:“Why so many accounts, why was money moved around outside and beyond any banking ethics. According to the reports a lawyer and agent of the monastery testified that he himself withdrew 1 or 2 million Euros in cash from an account, I repeat in cash. A monk too withdrew 1 or 2 million Euros in cash. Both records and numbers are true and accurate. Why act in this way? These actions are not compatible with the function of a monastery. No other monastery in Mount Athos or elsewhere has ever been involved in similar behavior.”

These are just some of Vatopedi’s accounts. Vatopedi’s has been involved in other transactions of thousands of Euros that go from Vatopedi to unknown individuals with whom they have no professional connection. We tried to reach some of them but they refused to explain why they were receiving money from the monastery when there was no professional connection.
Two cases are very characteristic.
The Institute ‘Maximos Graikos’ – {Institute for the research, preservation and promotion of spiritual and cultural traditions} – is a non-governmental organization. We tried to find out what they do. We learned they have organized a series of events, all attended by Ephraim. Its web site ‘Pemptousia’ – {Quintessence} – is a site focused on Vatopedi and Ephraim.

Video clip: Ephraim and Mr. Tsiliyannis are invited to the podium to address the guests in a presentation of the Institute Maximos Graikos.
Ephraim: “I think your Eminence Saint Artis it is justified…When I met Mr. Tsiliyanni I saw in him as Saint Artis also did, a great ‘passion’ to promote, study and to constantly speak about Maximos Graikos…”

This organization received a 150,000 Euros grant from the Greek Government before the scandal was revealed as well as from Vatopedi.
A high ranking executive of a big publishing group is a member of this organization and writes articles of devotion and religiousness for the Vatopedi page. Vatopedi commends him for his seemingly voluntary actions. It deposits 1,500 Euros every month in his account up to the revelation of the scandal when the accounts were frozen. Were these legally documented payments? Probably not. When we contacted him he committed to giving us an answer through his lawyer which he did not do. The organization refused to give us an answer.

Mrs. A.M. is one of those who have declared their faith in Ephraim. In the friends of Vatopedi webpage, she describes how the Holy Belt and Ephraim cured her irritable bowel syndrome: “A very important thing happened to me three years ago. I suffered from irritable bowel syndrome and the growl in my belly was so loud it sounded like a cat when you pet it. I went to so many doctors and I took so much medication but nothing worked. One night while I was in vain trying to sleep, I scolded myself ‘you unfaithful, why won’t you wrap the Holy Belt around you?’ That moment a tall lady in black approached me. With a very wide belt she started wrapping my body from under my breasts with a very slow and careful movement. She wrapped my stomach, my belly and my hips. What a sweet, soothing, beautiful and peaceful sensation is this I thought. I was yearning to feel more…Since then the irritable bowel syndrome has never bothered me again.”

That happened in 2005. Soon, another miracle followed. Vatopedi started depositing money in her account. She received a total of 341,000 Euros. Vatopedi’s big ‘circle of friends’, especially from Volos, also received large payments.

Even the Christian faith gets lost in Vatopedi’s circle of money. A group of individuals with suspicious activities, indictments and unsavory social profiles were part of this circle of friends.
Markos Karaberis was recently arrested in Macedonia for loan sharking and blackmailing. Karaberis baptized Papista’s son who was named after Ephraim. Papistas is the business partner of the monastery.
Karaberis had also undertaken to handle Papistas’ blackmail case related to properties he had bought in Thessaloniki after the Vatopedi scandal. Before his role in the loan sharking group was revealed, Papistas deposited 650,000 Euros in Karaberi’s secretary’s accounts; she was also implicated in the whole affair. He told the prosecutor Irini Kalou that he was returning a loan and that he had no check or any other documentation because of their great friendship, a friendship with Ephraim in the middle.

The journalist Georgios Feretis, who was involved with the loan sharking group is also Ephraim’s friend. In 2008 when Pandora’s Box started revealing the scandal, Georgios Feretis called us and in the presence of the show’s journalists he asked us, on Ephraim’s behalf, to stop the investigation. Today ERT {Greek Radio and Television} has suspended him.

Mr. Lavrendis Lavrendiadis, a businessman is also close to Ephraim. In his interviews he made reference to the positive effect his visits to monastery had on his health problems. Today he is being prosecuted for the embezzlement of 700,000,000 Euros from PRONTON BANK.

Mr. Sotiris Emmanuel is one of the major players implicated in the affair of the German submarines. This picture, which was published in the newspaper REAL NEWS, as well as the one we found, shows Mr. Emmanuel at Vatopedi, the day Ephraim talks to his trusted people and the day before he was taken into custody. He is still one of Ephraim’s advisors.

From the Interview with Loulis:Konstantinos Loulis: “I did not know Mr. Emmanuel, I met him for the first time two years ago and I worked briefly with him through the Association of the Friends of Vatopedi. I do not have a personal relationship with him and therefore I do not have an opinion about him and as far as I know, he is accountable not criminally implicated…’

Kostas Baxevanis: “He has been criminally implicated.”

Konstantinos Loulis: “He is accountable.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “He is criminally implicated.”

Konstantinos Loulis: “He is accountable. There is a difference between the two.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “He is facing felony charges, there have been indictments.”

Konstantinos Loulis: “I do not know this. Anyway, Mr. Emmanuel is someone whom I cannot judge. I cannot judge his behavior or his manners. We see things differently but I do not wish to comment on Mr. Emmanuel.”

Kostas Baxevanis: “Don’t you find it problematic? How about the coincidence of the transactions facilitated through a specific person with companies investigated for kickbacks, or the relationship with the person who is being indicted and is again connected to a Minister?”

Konstantinos Loulis: “I’ve told you, you should ask Mr. Emmanuel about these issues. What can I say?”

Ephraim, just before his deposition by the Prosecutor Irini Kalou who has asked to have him taken into custody, was presenting himself as the custodian of Orthodoxy. He assumed the role of a prestigious religious leader. He met with Putin and traveled with the Holy Belt, as he had done back in 1985 which won him widespread acceptance as a “Star Abbot.”

From Interview with Christos Telidis – Journalist.“I think that in this case The Vatopedi group, the Russian Church and Russia’s political leadership have common interests. My reference to the interests of the Russian political leadership takes into account the fact that this period the political leadership is facing elections, they just had the parliamentary and the presidential are around the corner. Putin is not doing well, as you know. The polls show that he is consistently trailing and the role of the Church is of great importance. The effort to upgrade Putin’s status included the visit of the Holy Belt with a tour to various cities.”

From Interview with Dimitris Bekiaris – Journalist.“The Russians recognized early on that Ephraim with his great personal ambitions and desire to grow Vatopedi’s influence was their kind of man. Ephraim had a strategy and acted at the right time. In Greece he took advantage of his dealing with the Greek public administration and his close relationship to persons he trusted close to then Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. In Mount Athos exclusive clubs were created and some monasteries attracted international and famous personalities where political and financial discussions took place stirring the interest of national and international financial circles as well as of states. It was this sense of secrecy that aroused the interest of states. The Secret Service of states like Russia and the USA tried to recruit monks who would provide them with information. They would relay what they saw and heard. They knew that the discussions there, the dealings of the monasteries or the dealings in relation to the monasteries or in the monasteries were relevant. What was going on there was a step ahead of developments.”

From Interview with Christos Telidis– Journalist.“In reality if the Russian Church and the political leadership were to have some form of relationship to Mount Athos one would expect it to be primarily through the Russian Monastery of Agios Pandeleimonas which is in a peculiar situation for some years now. The Abbot is a very old man and the monastery is controlled mostly by Ukrainian monks. The other monastery that should in essence have a special relationship with Russia is the monastery of Iveron which owned a metochi on Red Square that it still claims. If the Russian Church and the political leadership wanted to have a special, a privileged relationship with Mount Athos, it seems natural that they should have returned the metochi to the monastery of Iveron. But you see they have not done so for all these years and the issue is kept wrapped in silence.”

From Interview with Dimitris Bekiaris – Journalist.“Based on this, we could say that on a practical level, Russia could indirectly take advantage of the law in Turkey that requires the next Ecumenical Patriarch to be a Turkish citizen, and to hope that in the long term the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be transferred, if not somewhere like the island of Patmos in Greece, definitely to Mount Athos.”

The crimes of the politicians involved in this scandal have been excused, but not the events. A huge scandal with 32 people indicted still has an unknown side to it. In this scandal, religion was used as an alibi the same way a policeman uses his badge and the judge his court. The scandal of Vatopedi is not a scandal of Mount Athos, but of the team Ephraim, a team that seems to have replaced the Holy Bible with a thick checkbook.

Good Night.

Editors’ Note: Here are the links to the two episodes of Pandora’s Box:The episode which is the subject matter of this article is linked below as “Part two (or B). 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): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hei9Slv62to&feature=youtu.be

Part two (or B):
https://vimeo.com/36270070

Here are some questions you should ask yourself about the issues involving the Vatopedi scandal and its effect upon the Faithful:

1. Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi was jailed for a limited time in December of 2011 and January of 2012. What does it say about Orthodoxy when there is a not for profit “propaganda machine” working on behalf of Elder Ephraim? That organization has made the following public comments before any trial occurs:
“The Association of the Friends of Vatopedi Monastery issued the following statement: ‘Any serious-minded person, particularly anyone who is dealing with ecclesiastical issues, is well aware that such persecutions have identical motives with the ones used against righteous people throughout the centuries’ ”, reported London Daily News. See link at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2011/12/24/a-monastery-cell-for-abbot-efraim/

Have we reached a point where our collective perspectives of our Faith manage our judgment? Or are we at a stage where truth, law and moral conduct are kept out of our critical thinking? Is Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi really being “persecuted”?

2. Why were the civil and religious powers in Russia trying to inject their influence and control over Elder Ephraim’s detention? One of many newspapers observed: “This prompted a reaction from the Union of Judges and Prosecutors, which accused Russia of trying to exercise pressure on the Greek justice system. ‘It is unprecedented for a foreign country’s officials to criticize decisions taken by the independent Greek judiciary, the union said’ ”. See link at:http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_27/12/2011_420120
Also see the BBC article which states in part:

“The Russian Orthodox Church’s head of foreign relations, Metropolitan Ilarion, called the abbot’s detention ‘an extraordinary event, arousing profound bewilderment. And the Russian foreign ministry said: ‘We are deeply concerned by the ruling of the Greek judiciary to put him under pre-trial detention, despite the recommendations of the European Court of Human Rights’. Greece’s right-wing Laos party, which is in the governing coalition, also condemned the abbot’s arrest. ‘They rushed Ephraim to jail on Christmas Eve while others who have embezzled Greek people’s money remain at large,’ said Laos leader George Karatzaferis. Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou hit back, accusing the critics of ‘interfering in the work of the justice system’ “. See link at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16344621.

3. Have the Russians managed to manipulate the Greek Government and Greek Orthodox Church of Greece’s operations? The article entitled “Russian Orthodox rise in defense of arrested Vatopedi Monk” reads in part: “The recent arrest in Greece of Archimandrite EphremEphraim, superior of the Mount Athos Vatopedi Monastery, on suspicion of fraud and embezzlement has caused a stir in Russia’s Orthodox community, which set up a committee on Thursday to campaign for his acquittal. The creation of the committee in Ephraim’s defense, called Defend Mt. Athos, was the result of a meeting of a group working for the abbot’s acquittal, the Slavic Alphabet and Culture International Foundation told Interfax. The meeting was held at the foundation’s headquarters in Moscow. The committee plans measures to draw public attention to Ephraim’s case and to alleged moves by the Greek government to infringe on the rights of Mt. Athos monks, the foundation said.” See link at: http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=8956

4. Why was it necessary for the Ecumenical Patriarch to denounce the forces in Russia moving on Elder Ephraim’s behalf? “The Ecumenical Patriarchate denounced the interference of the Russian Orthodox Church in the case of Abbot Ephraim of Vatopedi, after the Holy Synod concluded on Tuesday”. See link for article at: http://eu.greekreporter.com/2012/01/11/%CE%B5cumenical-patriarchate-denounces-russian-interference-in-the-ephraim-case/

5. Why was Elder Ephraim allowed to go to Russia in October through November of 2011 and use the Belt of the Theotokos as a “fund raising aid” for his agenda? There are hundreds of articles to be found on the internet about this visit. One article makes the following observations: “One thing monk Ephraim knows well is business so it’s only normal that he would find a way to exploit financially this relic hysteria. As any hot-shot manager would do, he spotted the market gap and produced the needed product in no-time. The product is no other than relic replicas that would satisfy the spiritual needs of Russian believers. As expected, the replicas sold out within days. But he didn’t stop there. He promised he would write a book on the relic and the miracles associated with it. No wonder why the Greek media say that Ephraim would be ideal for being Greece’s PM right now. He’s the only one that can actually enforce development and production and as it turns out his public relation skills are far greater than Papandreou or Samaras”. See link at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2011/11/29/ephraim-and-poutin-make-miracles/

6. It has been widely reported that 3 million Russians waited in lines as long as 24 hours to see the belt. It has also been reported that donations were left at the various sites by the Faithful. Where is all the money? What was this money used for? Why do supporters of both Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi and Elder Ephraim of Arizona berate anyone who questions their agenda and asks for financial transparency? Do the activities of either Elder warrant the protective shield of “Athonite” used by their supporters to cover their pattern of actions?

7. Finally, there are numerous reports about Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi travelling, even to the United States. Ask yourselves why? Who did he come to influence? So much for leaving society and praying for our souls! We have developed more information on this topic. We will hold the information until it is time to release it. But those leaders who allow themselves to be compromised and enable the stain upon our Faith will find that condemnation will ultimately be universal.

Editor’s update April 2016

The defenders of the Ephraimite movement deflect the substance of the work of the reporter [Kostas Vaxevanis a/k/a Baxevanis] behind these documentaries/reports because he was sued for slander. He was sued and a verdict of 10,000 Euros was entered. Not because of the report, but because of one allegation contained in a magazine article. Here is what was reported in the Greek Reporter in January 2014;

“Father Ephraim of the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi, was suing Greek journalist, Kostas Vaxevanis for two of his articles published on the Internet and in print, concerning exchanges between the monastery and the state.

The court partially vindicated the monastery, ordering Vaxevanis to pay 10,000 euros compensation but not 15,000 euros as demanded by monastery representatives.

The judges’ decision related to an article by Vaxevanis, in which it was claimed by the Monastery that the points of view presented, “reflect the defendants own opinion and contains sharp criticism, far beyond what was necessary.”

The journalist was also charged with deliberately insulting Father Ephraim by publicly showing his contempt.

Regarding the 2012 article in the Greek magazine Unfollow, entitled “Ephraim: In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit of Investment,” the judges ruled that Vaxevanis’ claim that Father Ephraim who was imprisoned at the time, had tried to affect his release through various exchanges, was false and an act of defamation.

The court rejected the monastery’s objections concerning disparaging characterizations on the issue of the Vistonida exchange.

Regarding the Greek journalist’s allegations concerning the Cincture of Theotokos worship and the “economic motive” attributed to Father Ephraim, the court ruled that it could not be proven since the Cincture of Theotokos exhibition area was not “arbitrarily selected” by Ephraim. In addition a large part of the money acquired went to the monasteries where the Cincture was exhibited.” Here is the link to this article: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/01/13/10-000-euros-compensation-to-vatopedi-monastery/