Church says it has collected £3 million of debts owed

FURTHER information on embezzlement in Church finances emerged yesterday, as a committee of inquiry presented the Holy Synod with an update on its findings.

After the meeting, Paphos Bishop Chrysostomos told journalists “things were moving along nicely”, adding that the Archbishopric had already collected around £3 million out of £23 million owed to it.

Two weeks ago, the Synod suspended two Archbishopric employees, who reportedly owe the Church a sum in excess of £1 million; both were relatives of the ailing Primate. There were also unconfirmed allegations that the Primate’s signature was forged on cheques.

The ongoing probe, headed by a former Supreme Court judge, is investigating possible misappropriation and/or mismanagement of Church property and finances. Press reports have suggested that most — if not all — of the businesses and companies owned by the Church are heavily in debt. They include the Hellenic Mining Company, one of the largest conglomerates on the island, and radio station Logos.

“We have given the committee (of inquiry) further instructions on how to proceed,” Chrysostomos said yesterday. “We expect the next findings sometime over the next few days.”

The Paphos bishop said it was “highly likely” that more Archbishopric employees might be suspended, but stopped short of saying this was a foregone conclusion.
“We are in no rush… we shall wait for the probe’s findings and then act. If we knew for sure about these people, then they would have been sacked already,” he added.

He went on to say “… but if anyone else is penalised, we are talking about your average employee… after all, the two top guys are gone.” He was referring to Iosif Aristodemou and Chrysostomos Philippou, the two suspended Archbishopric employees; the former was the Primate’s chauffeur and nephew, the latter his accountant – also a relative.

Bishop Chrysostomos, who had called for the investigation, did not wish to comment on whether any cases would go to court.

“I am no lawyer, so I wouldn’t want to get into that,” he said.

And Politis newspaper, which has been closely following the story, yesterday cited its sources as claiming Aristodemou and an accomplice had swindled the Church out of hundreds of thousands of pounds in two land sale scams. Reportedly they set up a ghost company that “sold” Church land, and also collected commissions on other transactions of property belonging to the Archbishopric. According to the paper, a third accomplice, suspended accountant Chrysostomos Philippou, facilitated these transactions.

The Church probe is investigating how all this could have been allowed to happen, although the Archbishop’s condition — he suffers from memory lapses — is believed to be a major factor.

In spite of the veiled power struggle among the various bishops, the Holy Synod has shown a united front in cracking down on embezzlement, even though this has meant the removal of people with ties to the Archbishop.