2012-01-12 Real estate deals on the Holy Mountain

Shortly before Christmas, the abbot of the Vatopedi monastery, an eleventh century foundation on Mount Athos, was arrested on suspicion of inciting fraud. He is accused of being involved in a dubious real estate transaction, which resulted in a profit of 100 million Euros.

The details of this case, including the abbot's involvement, have been in the public domain for years. A high ranking Russian Orthodox church official linked the decision to arrest Abbot Ephraim at this time to Ephraim's recent visit to Russia, where he presented a precious relic to worshippers, the belt of the Holy Mother of God, and met Vladimir Putin twice.

According to a US embassy cable, the Vatopedi scandal is not an isolated case. Moreover, the cable says that the Greek government and Vatopedi colluded in their efforts to "limit damage". 08THESSALONIKI81 states (emphasis by the editor):

"The GoG and Vatopedi have tried to limit damage by proposing measures to reverse the transactions. ... The Church has sought to portray the scandal as isolated to Vatopedi but is concerned the fallout could affect other monasteries and patriarchates with similar ancient land holdings."


"The extent of the scandal is still unknown. It is likely to remain an embarrassment to the government for some time and could claim more political victims as Vatopedi, the GoG, and the courts attempt to unwind the numerous illicit land deals and the parliamentary investigation gets underway."

(It is advised to read the full text of the cable, as the topic under discussion is rather complex. To summarise, it raises two different issues, the validity of Ottoman documents to prove ownership of land, and swapping said land for other real estate that has a higher value, if the land claimed in the Ottoman documents is no longer available.)