Jerusalem court denies Patriarchate’s final request to block property sale to Jewish NGO

Jerusalem, June 26, 2020

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A 16-year legal battle seems to have finally come to an end, as the Jerusalem District Court denied a request from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem to block the sale of church property to a right-wing Jewish NGO on Wednesday.

The latest move is the Church’s “final request,” according to the Jerusalem Post, though a statement from the Patriarchate indicates that it intends to “launch an appeal to the Supreme Court,” reports Middle East Eye.

A scandal over land sales rocked the Patriarchate in 2004-2005, ultimately leading to the ousting of His Beatitude Patriarch Irenaios and his replacement by the current Patriarch, His Beatitude Theophilos III.

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 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.

15 years later, those same land sales were back in the news, as the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the Church’s appeal over the sale of three properties in the Old City last June.

The Patriarchate, in turn, rejected the court’s ruling, arguing that the sales were corrupt as the NGO had bribed the head of the Church’s financial affairs in the city. However, the court stated that the Church had filed the affidavit concerning the briberies too late in the proceedings.

Following Wednesday’s ruling, Ateret Cohanim may now have the right to evict Palestinians who currently possess the Imperial and Petra Hotels, located near the Jaffa Gate in the Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City.

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