Police to Investigate Claim Greek Patriarch Bought Title With $13 Million Bribe

Former Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan suspected of assisting Theophilos III to acquire title.

Tomer Zarchin
Tomer Zarchin
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Tomer Zarchin
Tomer Zarchin

The police commissioner recently asked for an investigation into a claim that Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III allegedly purchased recognition of his title with the assistance of former Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan.

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino asked the head of the police investigations and intelligence branch, Maj. Gen. Yoram Segilovich to investigate the suspicions.

Deposed Greek Patriarch Iranaeus ICredit: Michal Fattal

The request to launch a criminal investigation came from the ousted Greek Orthodox patriarch, Irenaeus I, in a document submitted last week to the High Court of Justice. A similar request was conveyed to State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.

The request may be another part of the ongoing issues surrounding the extension of leases on lands owned by the Patriarchate in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Rehavia and Talbieh, among which is the property on which the Knesset and the President's Residence stand.

In a document submitted in the course of a hearing in the High Court of Justice, Irenaeus stated that Theophilos was recognized by the state in a "bribery deal" after he promised to pay $13 million of the Patriarchate's funds in exchange for official recognition.

Irenaeus claims that the alleged deal was made with the assistance of Eitan, who at the time headed a special committee of ministers who recommended to the government that it recognize Theophilos, and that Eitan did not tell the other ministers about the alleged "bribery deal."

According to Irenaeus, without the alleged promise of payment, the government would not have recognized Theophilos.

Eitan denies choosing Theophilos based on a money transfer. "Things were done [based] on their essence," he said.

In July, Haaretz revealed the behind-the-scenes events surrounding the appointment of Theophilos, an appointment the Israeli government had delayed for two and a half years.

Documents indicated that Eitan had allegedly acted at the behest of an old friend, real estate baron Samuel Hayek, who is known to be a confidant of right-wing Israeli politicians, to promote an agreement between a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund and the Patriarchate to extend the lease on the land, ahead of the approval of the Israeli government of Theophilos' appointment.

The agreement between the JNF and the Patriarchate was to have resolved a suit the Patriarchate brought against the JNF subsidiary over the leases. Surprisingly, the agreement stated that the Patriarchate was to pay the JNF $13 million.

It later emerged that the day the government approved Theophilos' appointment, Eitan sent a fax to Hayek in London stating that he had talked to the future patriarch and had received a promise that the leases would be extended.

Theophilos was recognized by the state, and a few months later vehemently denied that there had been any agreement between the parties according to which he had to pay $13 million.

Irenaeus' lawyer, Daniel Robbins, told the court during a hearing on claims between Theophilos and Irenaeus that Theophilos was appointed through a "bribery deal" but after being appointed did not pay the money.

Irenaeus told the court that Theophilos and the JNF had reached a deal "behind the back" of the state, which had withheld recognition of Theophilos, by which Theophilos would be recognized by the government and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate would pay $13 million to the JNF. Irenaeus claims that Eitan knew of or was involved in putting together the deal.

"There was no other reason for Theophilos to have pledged for the church to pay this money to the JNF other than recognition of his title," Irenaeus told the court.

Eitan responded that he was not privy to the details of the deal. "I am hearing about this for the first time," he said. "I can say unequivocably that the considerations of choosing between the accuser and the accused were purely professional, diplomatic and practical on the part of the State of Israel. I was not a lone judge."

When asked why he did not let the other ministers on the committee in on the deal underway between Theophilos and the JNF, Eitan replied: "The deal was not part of the considerations, Good God."

The JNF responded: "This is an old and complex legal issue that predates the current management of the JNF and has been before the courts for years."

Haaretz's repeated queries to Theophilos' attorney received no response.



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