Land deal involving Greek Patriarchate goes to court

Arab families living as government-subsidized tenants in Old City's Imperial Hotel ask to stay until ownership determined.

imperial hotel 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
imperial hotel 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A land deal involving a former primate of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem that remains shrouded in controversy and mystery five years after it was made public is now being fought over in a court case with political underpinnings. Emmanouil Skopelitis, who held office as Patriarch Irineos I from 2001 to 2005, allegedly leased for 198 years several parcels of church-owned land in east Jerusalem to Israeli developers, and the validity of the transactions is being disputed by the Church. In the latest twist in the protracted saga, an attorney representing eight of the approximately 30 Arab families living in one of the properties in question, the Old City's Imperial Hotel, asked the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday to reject a suit filed against the Greek Patriarchate demanding that it vacate the residents from the hotel. "Until the court decides who the site belongs to there is no point at all in dealing with the question of whether to evict the residents of the building," attorney Renato Jarach said on Tuesday. The families living at the site have government-subsidized housing (diur mugan). Irineos was ousted from his position amid allegations of disposing of Church property in a way that strengthened the Jewish presence in the Old City. He has said that Nikolas Papadimas, the former church treasurer, signed the contracts without his knowledge. Papadimas, who has fled the country and is wanted by Interpol on an international warrant amid allegations that he stolen millions of dollars from the Patriarchate, remains at large, and is thought to be in South America. The Church argues that Papadimas did not have the authority to sign such agreements, and that the transactions are therefore invalid. The ownership of the properties is now being determined by the court. Reports of the property transfers to Jews have angered the Arabs who make up most of the 100,000 Greek Orthodox flock in the Holy Land. The properties allegedly leased to Berisford Investments Limited and Richards Marketing Corp include the Imperial and Petra hotels inside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.