ENGLISH VERSION: Embattled Eirinaios accuses Christodoulos
Patriarch Eirinaios of Jerusalem directly linked Archbishop Christodoulos with Greece's most wanted man, stating in a surprise revelation on February 23 that Christodoulos sent Apostolos Vavylis to Israel to help elect him.
The revelation, made in an announcement by the patriarch's spokesman, caused an uproar in Athens, resulting in a frenzy of calls by Athens newspapers for Christodulos' resignation.
Christodoulos denied the charge, which represented a complete reversal of Eirinaios' previous statements, and disavowed any close connection to Vavylis, who used the alias Apostolos Fokas in Jerusalem. A statement by the Archdiocese of Athens attributed Eirinaios' statement to an organised smear campaign.
Both Christodoulos and Eirinaios had attempted in the last month to distance themselves from Vavylis, who was convicted on charges of transporting one-and-a-half kilos of heroin in the late 1980s and later identified as a Mossad agent in a 1996 Greek intelligence service (EYP) document published in the Athens daily To Vima.
In a sworn affidavit given to Israeli authorities, Vavylis admitted that Christodoulos sent him to Israel to help elect Eirinaios as Patriarch of Jerusalem, the fourth-ranking hierarch in Orthodox Christianity. Vavylis admitted to employing illegal tactics in the electoral campaign, including distributing doctored pictures of Eirinaios chief rival, Metropolitan Timotheos of Vostron.
Rotten real-estate deals
Eirinaios' allegation against Christodoulos coincided with a burgeoning financial crisis at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The patriarchate is the keeper of Christianity's holiest shrines, including the Holy Sepulchre, and owns many prime properties in Jerusalem and other areas of Israel and Palestinian territories.
On February 23, a real-estate company operating in Israel obtained a court order to tie up all of the patriarchate's bank accounts and place a lien on parcels of its real estate to satisfy an $8 million claim against the patriarchate. The amount was awarded by the Israeli Supreme Court one year ago to the company South African Israel after the patriarchate broke a contract leasing a prime property in the Abu-Tor area, between Mar Ilias (Prophet Elijah) and Jerusalem. Assessors valued the property at $3 million.
In the past, the patriarchate had signed a number of other property deals with the same company, including one involving land in Nazareth. The lease for the property had been signed by Eirinaios' predecessor, the late Diodoros, who later broke the contract. The case has been in the courts since the late 1990s, but the negotiations with the company over the huge court award were handled by Eirinaios' accountant, Nikos Papadimas.
Papadimas, whose father described him as an "errand boy who had not finished high school", was given a broad power of attorney by Eirinaios to manage and rent the patriarchate's property and negotiate on its behalf. The accountant disappeared several months ago, and Eirinaios has accused him of embezzling $600,000, which other sources at the patriarchate estimate is one-tenth of the real amount missing.
One of the properties tied up by the court is believed to be a 75-acre parcel of land in Mar Ilias, in the old Arab quarter between Israel and the Palestinian territories, about one-and-a-half kilometres on the Israel side of the wall now separating the two sides.
"Eirinaios' responsibility lies in not negotiating a proper payment scheme and using an incompetent person [Papadimas] to handle the affair. He could have struck an agreement to slowly pay off the debt. We believe Papadimas was used to cut deals which Eirinaios did not want to sign personally," a high-level clergyman at the patriarchate told the Athens News.
A number of the vast property holdings of the patriarchate are of strategic importance to Israel, either because they lie on the border of the Israel with the Palestinian Territories or because they could influence the future status of Jerusalem.
In a July 2002 letter to PM Ariel Sharon, Eirinaios offered to sell to the Israeli state key Jerusalem properties, including the land on which are built the residence of the Israeli president, the Knesset (parliament) building, the prime minister's residence and the property occupied by the education ministry.
Bishops in Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity, were at a loss to explain Eirinaios' reversal in tying Vavylis to Christodoulos.
"Eirinaios now feels that Christodoulos is sinking, so he is throwing the last stone to bolster his own position. He is saying that he is not to blame because Christodoulos sent these unsavoury characters over here," one bishop said.
But they also say that both Vavylis and his cohort, retired Greek officer Ioannis Triantafyllakis, had told everyone that they were there acting on Christodoulos' behalf.
In 2001, when Greek Consul-General Petros Panagiotopoulos warned Eirinaios that Vavylis was "dangerous", the patriarch replied that Vavylis was Christodoulos' "spiritual child".
In an argument with the driver of Eirinaios' rival, Timotheos, Vavylis claimed that he was a Mossad agent. He told others that he was working for Greek intelligence [EYP].
The current crisis has led a number of Jerusalem hierarchs to seek Greek government intervention to set matters aright. One bishop said: "Greece allowed crooks to help manage the patriarchate. Now they are obliged to put things in order. We all heard that Christodoulos sent Vavylis here, and he did whatever he wanted. He had enormous powers, with ties in Greece and Israel."
"These people evicted us from our very home. I came here as a youth with short pants and ended up needing [Vavylis' permission] to see the patriarch," another bishop told the Athens News.
George Gilson, Athens News
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