Comment by MySatelite: This scandal has been on the news for some years now. The whole of Greece knows that politicians were involved. After years of sweeping matters under the carpet, the present (undemocratically placed) government has decided to charge only one of the parties involved. As most Greeks ironically put it, Abbot Efraim entered the Parliamentary building by himself, signed papers by himself, without any of the other 32 political figureheads involved ever being mentioned this past week. Naturally, scandals involving Siemens and Ferrostaal have conveniently disappeared from the news lately. Final points to consider: a) big entrepreneurs ogling land on a pristine Mount Athos, b) Efraim’s visit with Putin in Moscow last month in an attempt to create closer ties to Russia, c) no politician has ever set foot inside a prison cell for any scandals since the mid 90’s (and the statute of limitations was, once again, conveniently altered by law just this year to expire and protect politicians).
Investigators have said the deal, which was revealed several years ago, was weighted in favor of Vatopedi Monastery in northern Greece and cost taxpayers the equivalent of about $131 million. Two ministers in a previous, conservative government lost their jobs over the deal, which was ultimately canceled, although legal issues have delayed full restitution.
The scandal nonetheless contributed significantly to the conservatives’ 2009 general election defeat.
Abbot Efraim, 55, was led to the Korydallos prison in Athens after spending the night in the capital’s police headquarters. He had traveled 370 miles from the Orthodox monastic sanctuary of Mount Athos, from which women and female animals have been banned since 1046.
A few dozen supporters shouted slogans outside the prison.
The abbot had been kept under guard in his monastery cell since Saturday, having been temporarily judged unfit to travel because of a high fever and a high blood sugar count. He will stand trial on charges of embezzlement, money laundering and making a false statement.
Christian Orthodox Russia waded into the fray on Wednesday, with the country’s Foreign Ministry criticizing the decision to jail Abbot Efraim.
“Bearing in mind the statement by Abbot Efraim of his willingness to cooperate with investigative organs and the condition of his health, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Greek judicial organs to keep him in custody pending trial, which doesn’t take into account the rulings and recommendations of the European Court of Human Rights,” the ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, said in a statement.
The abbot had escorted a Christian relic from the monastery’s collection to Russia in October, which millions of faithful in 15 Russian cities lined up to view. In Moscow, the queue to see the belt that church members believe was worn by the Virgin Mary stretched for 2.5 miles, and the wait was as long as 24 hours.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism.
“Greece is a country ruled by the law that has a long democratic tradition and respect for human rights, where there is full respect for the independence of justice and a clear separation of powers,” said a ministry spokesman, Grigoris Delavekouras. “On these issues, Greece accepts no indications on how to act.”
On Tuesday night, several hundred monks, nuns and other demonstrators gathered outside a central court building to protest Abbot Efraim’s arrest.
No trial date has been set, and the abbot’s lawyers are expected to apply for his release. Under Greek law, suspects can be jailed for up to 18 months pending trial.
Greek politicians embroiled in the scandal will not stand trial, as Parliament ruled this year that the statute of limitations had expired.
Vatopedi Monastery has a treasure trove of medieval artifacts and books. It has attracted large numbers of male guests, including Prince Charles of Britain, who is a frequent visitor to Mount Athos.