The Jerusalem District Court has denied a final request by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to block the sale of church property in Jerusalem’s Old City to the right-wing NGO Ateret Cohanim, according to Haaretz.
The appeal was filed by the patriarchate after the church sold the land to Ateret Cohanim in 2004. The NGO is a Jewish group that legally purchases Arab-owned property in east Jerusalem.
In a scandal that rocked the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, then Greek patriarch Irenaios denied knowledge of the sale at the time and claimed it was void, then backtracked and said it was the work of the church’s director of finance, Nicholas Papadimas, without the church’s authorization.
It was also claimed that Papadimas had been bribed by Ateret Cohanim to advance the deals, and that the price paid for the parcels of land were significantly lower than their market value.
When the sales were made public in 2005, Irenaios was forced from office by Greek Orthodox officials and replaced by the current Patriarch Theophilos III.
Theophilos rejected the sales of land and took the case to the District Court, where it was rejected on the basis that Irenaios had the authorization to make the sales, leading to the Supreme Court appeal.
The ruling this past week is the final blow in the church’s 16-year legal battle against the sale. Ateret Cohanim may now have the right to evict Palestinians who currently possess the Imperial Hotel and the Petra Hotel. The two hotels are located near the Jaffa Gate in the Christian and Armenian Quarters of the Old City.
The church had requested the retrial from the district court based on an affidavit of an individual named Ted Bloomfield, who began working for Ateret Cohanim in the 1990s. Bloomfield claimed that the NGO gave bribes to senior officials from the church on a regular basis and even offered bribes of a sexual nature, according to Haaretz.
Part of the court’s denial of the retrial request mentioned that the church had produced the affidavit too late in the proceedings, as the allegations had already been reported by Haaretz two and a half years ago, meaning the church could have obtained his testimony before the trial.
Judge Moshe Bar-Am also ruled that Bloomfield’s allegations didn’t relate directly to the 2004 sale and were instead related to prior business contacts that never produced results.
The efforts to cancel the sale of the property also included diplomatic pressure on Israel. Russian President Valdimir Putin raised the issue during a visit to Israel in January, according to Haaretz.
Alex Winston contributed to this report.