Greek Orthodox Church sued in feud over Jewish hold on Old City property

Lawsuit filed on January 22 is the latest move in a legal battle that has been going on for three years.

greek orthodox 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
greek orthodox 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Three foreign investment companies which claim to have leased property from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate have sued the church and the current holders of the properties for NIS 5 million and asked the Jerusalem District Court to evict them. The lawsuit, which was filed on January 22, is the latest move in a legal battle that has been going on for three years. The fact that the companies claimed to have leased the properties - the Petra Hotel and the Imperial Hotel at the entrance to the Old City's Jaffa Gate - was first made public in Ma'ariv on March 18, 2005. Further investigation revealed that behind the leasing deals was Ateret Cohanim, a yeshiva and development company whose aim is to establish as many Jewish holdings as possible in the Old City. The companies that signed the lease were Berisford Investments Ltd., Richards Marketing Corporation and Gallow Global Ltd. One of the companies is listed in Guernsey and the other two in the Virgin Islands. They are represented here by Israeli lawyers Ze'ev Scherf, Yosef Richter and Avi Segal. The plaintiffs wrote that they had leased all three properties in August and October of 2004 from Nikolaos Papadimas, who, on May 6, 2004, had been given power of attorney by then-Jerusalem patriarch Irineos I to make and sign leases on behalf of the church as he saw fit. According to the plaintiffs, they had believed that the deal signed with Papadimas in the name of the patriarch had been made in good faith and had no reason to think otherwise. In November 2004, Papadimas fled after the church opened an investigation into the transactions. Meanwhile, Irineos I, who was later fired on suspicion that he had been behind the leasing of the buildings, filed a suit against the development companies that had purportedly leased them. He claimed he had known nothing about the leasing of the properties and that the purchasers had known that Papadimas was not authorized to lease the buildings to them. Renato Yarak, the Jerusalem-based attorney representing the Jerusalem Patriarchate, informed the companies that the church did not recognize the lease documents. "They were not signed legally by someone authorized to sign them in the name of my client, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, and were not confirmed by the authorized institutions including the Greek Orthodox patriarch and the Holy Synod. My clients deny receiving any payment from you for the alleged transactions. My clients will continue to use these properties on the basis of all their rights and either they or their protected will continue to hold and manage them." Scherf and Richter did not return phone calls from The Jerusalem Post.