A CYPRIOT investor who managed a considerable amount of the Vatopedi Monastery’s fortune said yesterday that the monastery’s dealings were “squeaky clean”.
The 1,000-year-old monastery is accused of cheating the Greek government out of millions by underhandedly swapping cheap land for prime real estate.
A parliamentary inquest is currently underway in Greece.
At the centre of the corruption scandal is Father Ephraim, the abbot of the monastery and brother of Greek Cypriot politician Nicos Koutsou.
Ephraim has been relieved of his financial duties, following pressure from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Athos Koiranidis, financial consultant to Ephraim and the CEO of two companies in which the monastery has a stake, indicated to Greek MPs yesterday that the Mount Athos monks had even wider business dealings than previously thought.
The parliamentary inquiry into the allegedly corrupt property swap between the state and the monastery has over the last few days heard about the increasingly complex and lucrative investments in which Vatopedi was involved. It was suggested last week, for instance, that its monks had invested some €90 million in the stock market.
There was a new revelation yesterday when Koiranidis, the man who manages this portfolio and who helped set up the Cyprus-based Rassadel, through which the monastery is involved in yet more business deals, appeared before the investigative committee.
Koiranidis informed the MPs that through Rassadel, the monastery owned 30 per cent of a property management company, Anthemias, which is run by businessman Thanassis Papistas. The Cypriot also revealed that Vatopedi also owns 30 per cent of a second company in Cyprus, Mateus, which also holds 30 per cent of Papistas’s holding company.
This means that the monastery owns a 51 per cent majority stake in Papistas’ property company, which bought many of the properties around Thessaloniki that Vatopedi was given as part of the land exchange with the state.
But Koiranidis insists there was nothing untoward in the business dealings of the two companies.
And he claimed that Father Ephraim and his monastery are the victims of an “orchestrated campaign of malice.”
Some circles were jealous of Vatopedi because it “is a thriving monastery with 110 young and educated monks,” he explained.
Koiranidis went on to praise the clerics in charge of Vatopedi, presenting them as men of God who were dedicated to their spiritual duties.
“As far as the fathers are concerned, they neither have, nor wish to have, knowledge of issues of a financial nature.”
The monastery had made about €70 million from the sale and transfer of land plots, he said.
“But obviously this money would be invested somewhere… in restructuring the monastery, in building a retirement home. I mean, it’s not as if the fathers would have put the money in their safe.”
Yet in answering reporters’ questions, Koiranidis inadvertently revealed a great deal about the business acumen of the men of cloth.
For instance, he said that under the arrangement with the monastery, he would receive a five per cent commission on profits generated through transactions.
This clause was included at the request of the monastery, in order to give him (Koiranidis) an “added incentive,” he said.
Asked why his commission was so generous, Koiranidis said these proceeds were not intended for personal gain.
“In any case, I never received anything. And even if I had, I would have donated it to charity,” he said.
According to Koiranidis, “not a single euro” is missing from the coffers of the companies he represents.
“All the things reported in the press – about the monastery financing the Annan plan, money laundering, that Ephraim was funding [Limassol bishop] Athanasios’ election campaign – are nothing but malicious lies,” he said.
By Elias Hazou, Cyprus Mail, December 3, 2008