Greek Church Says It Has Evidence of Corruption in Settler Takeover of Jerusalem Properties

Evidence includes testimony from former manager of property that court ruled was legally sold to Ateret Cohanim, which seeks to increase Jewish presence in the Old City

The New Imperial Hotel building in Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem filed suit in Jerusalem District Court on Monday seeking to overturn a court ruling that three strategically placed properties in the Old City of Jerusalem had been legally sold by the church to Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish organization that seeks to increase the Jewish presence in the Old City.

The church’s latest suit claims that new evidence shows that the sale of the properties was tainted by corruption on the part of representatives of Ateret Cohanim to which church representatives lent a hand, and that Ateret Cohanim’s conduct was tantamount to that of a criminal organization.

Palestinian fights settler NGO's takeover of Jerusalem hotelHaaretz

In June, the Supreme Court confirmed a district court ruling that the three buildings should rightfully be vacated and handed over to Ateret Cohanim. Monday’s suit seeks to have the district court verdict reopened so that the new evidence can be considered.

>>  Read more: 'We go back 800 years': Palestinian fights settler NGO's takeover of Jerusalem hotel

The transactions in question were carried out 14 years ago and caused an uproar within Jerusalem’s Greek Patriarchate that led to the unprecedented ouster of Greek Patriarch Irenaios. In her original ruling, which the patriarchate now hopes to have reversed, District Court Judge Gila Canfy Steinitz found problems in the sale of the property but ruled that the church had not proven that the transactions were the product of bribery or corruption.

When the ruling was confirmed by the Supreme Court, it prompted additional uproar in the Christian world and a joint protest by Jerusalem church leaders from a large number of denominations.

In the interim, Ateret Cohanim has demanded possession of the three buildings, including the two large hotel buildings, the New Imperial Hotel and the Petra Hotel, overlooking the Jaffa Gate, and the eviction of the Palestinians currently in possession of the premises.

The new suit relies on an account of events provided to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate by Ted Bloomfield, who in the 1990s managed two Jerusalem hotels including the Petra. He purportedly said that he had accepted money from Ateret Cohanim to persuade Palestinian protected tenants in the Petra to sell their rights to the Jewish non-profit organization.

The new lawsuit claims that Bloomfield’s testimony reflects actions on Ateret Cohanim’s part that are “extraordinary in their severity” and that include fraud, forgery of documents presented in court and bribery including alleged attempted sexual bribery. The church’s complaint also alleges that Ateret Cohanim obstructed justice through perjury and the deliberate concealing of documents. Most of the assertions in the new suit have been reported in recent years in Haaretz.

Bribery of an archbishop

The church now also claims that Ateret Cohanim bribed a church archbishop, Constantinos Michailidis, who headed the patriarchate’s finance department and who according to the complaint, systematically received bribes from representatives of Ateret Cohanim. In tapes appended to an affidavit from Bloomfield, the archbishop is referred to as Chai. The head of Ateret Cohanim, Matityahu Dan, is purportedly heard on tape as saying: “If you close [matters] with Chai, you’re covered.”

The patriarchate asserts that in June 1996, Dan, Ateret Cohanim lawyer Eitan Geva and Irving Moskowitz, the organization’s financial backer, met at the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem with Petra Hotel owner Nabil Kirsh and Bloomfield. At the meeting, Moskowitz purportedly signed an agreement to buy the protected tenancy rights at the hotel for $4.5 million.

By contrast, eight years later, the patriarchate allegedly bought the entire building and not only the tenancy rights for just half a million dollars. The lawsuit claims that the agreement by Moskowitz and representatives of Ateret Cohanim to pay nine times more for tenancy rights than for the entire building is evidence that the later agreement for the purchase of the entire building was tainted by corrupt and unreasonable.

The complaint alleges that Ateret Cohanim agreed to pay the Palestinian tenant a “fee” of $250,000, the equivalent of half the amount allegedly paid for the entire building. The patriarchate states that Ateret Cohanim had two property appraisals that had not been presented to the court valuing the Petra Hotel at between $10 million to $12 million – 20 times the amount purchase price for the building. The church also alleges that Ateret Cohanim representatives forged an agreement that had been presented in court providing for the sale by the patriarchate of a portion of the hotel to a foreign company.

Attached to the complaint is a tape that the church states is of Dan offering sexual services to the hotel’s owner. The conversation had been reported about six months ago by Haaretz.

“Do you want a girl? One, two, how many do you want ... how old do you want?” The Palestinian seller is ostensibly heard saying that he wanted an 18-year-old while Dan is said to have asked Bloomfield about supplying the owner Viagra. The church claims that this aspect of the contacts never came to fruition.

Ateret Cohanim has yet to provide a response for this article.