Jerusalem, June 12, 2019
A scandal over land sales rocked the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in 2004-2005, ultimately leading to the ousting of His Beatitude Patriarch Irenaios and his replacement by the current Patriarch, His Beatitude Theophilos III.
15 years later, those same land sales are back in the news, as the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the Church’s appeal over those sales, of three properties in the Old City, on Monday. Justice Alex Stein and Judges Yitzhak Amit and Yael Vilner ruled that the sales via the Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim were wholly legal and approved the transfer of the buildings to the organization, reports the Jerusalem Post.
The properties in question are the Petra Hotel, leased for 99 years at $500,000, the Imperial Hotel, leased for $1.25 million, and the Beit Azmiya, sold for $55,000. They were sold to three different foreign real estate companies with Ateret Cohanim, which deals in purchasing Arab-owned property in east Jerusalem, locating the assets and negotiating for their purchase, reports the Jewish Press.
At the time, Pat. Irenaios initially denied knowledge of the sales, claiming they were void, though he later said the deals were the handiwork of Nicholas Papadimas, the Church’s director of finance, without the Church’s authorization. It was also claimed that Papadimas had been bribed by Ateret Cohanim to sell the plots of land for far below market value.
The sales became public in 2005 and Pat. Irenaios was forced from office by the Holy Synod of Jerusalem and a pan-Orthodox council in Constantinople. His replacement, Pat. Theophilos disputed the sales and took the matter to the District Court, where it was rejected on the basis that Pat. Irenaios had the authorization to make the sales and that Padaimas acted as his proxy, leading to the appeal in the Supreme Court.
The District Court did, however, reject the claims of bribery.
Given the Supreme Court’s ruling, the three companies affiliated with Ateret Cohanim now hold large portions of the entrance to the Old City from the direction of the Jaffa Gate and in the Bab a-Khuta neighborhood.
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