Moscow, March 21, 2017
The court of appeals for serious crimes, consisting of three judges, has acquitted all defendants in the case of a land exchange between the Greek government and Vatopedi Monastery, reports RIA-Novosti.
Charges against Archimandrite Ephraim, abbot of Mt. Athos’ Vatopedi Monastery, Monk Arsenios, and twelve others in the so-called “Holy Exchange” have been dropped.
The controversial case spanned many years, and many considered it mere political intrigues. It played an important role in the change of power in Greece’s 2009 parliamentary elections. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Orthodox Church spoke out in defense of Archimandrite Ephraim, who had brought the Holy Cincture of the Theotokos from the Athonite monastery to Russia in October 2011, and was held in jail for several months between December 2011 and March 2012.
Nine years after publications began to appear about the controversial exchange, the court ruled that nothing scandalous occurred in the handing over of land between the Greek state and Vatopedi Monastery, and acquitted all defendants. The public prosecutor’s office of the Greek Supreme Court filed an appeal in their defense in 2013.
The scandal broke in 2008 when the monastery transferred Vistonida Lake with the coastal areas to the government at a high rate in exchange for 260 valuable plots of land, including in Athens, which the monastery immediately resold. The government recognized the exchange of lands, although the monks’ right to own the lands around the lake were disputed. According to the monastery, the land was given to it over a millennium ago by the Byzantine Emperor. The scandal arose in that the exchange was notarized by a notary whose husband held a ministry post at that time. Those against the monastery claimed it cheated the government of more than 100 million euros ($1,750,000).
“Today’s verdict closes a huge wound. It restores truth and honor to those unjustly accused. Although it’s late, in the end light always overcomes darkness,” said former Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis who had earlier been acquitted as well. He also emphasized that the “scandal” was merely slander against the monastery that brought years of anguish for many.
After his time in jail, Abbot Ephraim had also been acquitted of obstruction of justice in 2012.