Kathimerini has reported that Nicholas Papadimas (var. Nikos Papadimas), the fugitive former treasurer to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, has been arrested at Athens International Airport.
Papadimas disappeared from Jerusalem in 2005, after it came to light that land in East Jerusalem belonging to the church had been leased to the Israeli settler group Ateret Cohanim. According to a Russian report, Papadimas now says he stayed with family in Israel before moving to Panama, and that he returned to Greece to surrender himself due to threats by Hamas.
The 2005 land deal, as was reported widely, led to the dethronement Patriarch Irenaeus (var. Irineos), who claimed to have known nothing about the transaction; Andrew Walsh, who provided a good overview at the time, noted:
…Denying any part in the land transaction, Irineos pinned the blame on his financial lieutenant, a 32-year-old Greek national named Nikolaos Papadimas, who had disappeared, apparently taking $800,000 in funds realized from the deal along with him. “May my hands be cut off if I have stolen,” Irineos told Kathimerini in mid April.
But on Good Friday, April 29, Ma’ariv reported that it had obtained copies of a 198-year lease signed in August 2004 by Papadimas, as well as a power of attorney authorizing Papadimas to act on behalf of the patriarchate that Irineos had signed a few months earlier. The patriarch didn’t have persuasive response to that revelation, and, at about the same time, the Greek government reported that he had not cooperated with investigators sent from Greece.
Iranaeus was ousted in favour of Theophilos, who promised to rescind the deal but in fact didn’t do so; Theophilos’ failure to act led to a breach with the controversial Palestinian bishop Atallah Hanna. Israel continued to recognise Iranaeus as the Patriarch for several years, despite a 2001 letter from the cleric to Yasser Arafat, in which the cleric conveyed his “disgust and disrespect… for the descendants of the crucifiers”. As of 2011 Iranaeus was living under Israeli police guard in his Patriarchal apartments, from where he was railing against Theophilos as a man “to whom ecclesiastical history will ascribe the name traitor!”
Another character the story of Iranaeus is a certain Apostolos Vavylis, a former drug smuggler who became a close associate of the late Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens. Vavylis – who wears clerical garb despite being a layman – was said to have had links to Greek and Israeli intelligence, and to have facilitated Iraenaus’ own rise to the Patriarchate in 2001. Vavylis was arrested in 2006 after fleeing from Greece to Italy via Thailand “with the help of his Taiwanese friends”; he was subsequently acquitted of various charges connected to espionage and fraud.
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