Cyprus AG Launches Probe into Monks’ Scandal and Money Laundering

15 March 2024

In a significant development, the Attorney-General’s office of Cyprus has intensified its response to the monk scandal that has gripped the nation. Two investigators, Ninos Kekkos and George Papaioannou, have been appointed to probe potential criminal activities linked to the controversy, including any police involvement.

Members of Parliament are urging the money laundering unit, Mokas, to scrutinize the church’s financial dealings following revelations that monks paid for social media posts to attract more donations. Justice Minister Marios Hartsiotis has assured the public of the government’s dedication to thoroughly investigating the scandal.

The scandal, which initially involved two monks in a sex and cash controversy, has widened with connections emerging to far-right Elam party leader Christos Christou and former police chief Kypros Michaelides. Allegations have also been raised against Mokas and the police force.

The discovery of €800,000 in cash at the Osiou Avvakoum monastery has raised eyebrows, particularly as it was transferred to the Tamassos bishopric for counting rather than being handed over to police. Disy MP Demetris Demetriou expressed disbelief at the handling of the situation, suggesting that the church’s wealth might not stem solely from donations and hinting at potential money laundering activities.

Under current tax regulations, while the church must declare income from business operations, reporting donations is less stringent. However, Akel MP Irene Charalambides has called for a thorough investigation into the church’s finances, highlighting concerns over donations from Russian oligarchs and the lack of scrutiny into their legitimacy.

The Tamassos bishopric, known for Cyprus’ first “Russian-style church” and donations from businessman Vyacheslav Zarenkov, is at the center of these concerns. The history with Malaysian businessman Jho Low, who donated €300,000 to the church and subsequently received assistance in obtaining a Cypriot passport, adds to the urgency for an investigation.

Despite some skepticism regarding Mokas’ ability to conduct the investigation effectively, Charalambides emphasized that it remains the designated body for such inquiries. Meanwhile, sources close to the church have indicated a potential shift in Russian financial interest following Tamassos Bishop Isaias’ support for Ukraine’s church independence.

The police have clarified their role in securing the transfer of the cash box to the bishopric but have faced criticism for not seizing it. The presence of hooded figures during the transfer has fueled further speculation and concern.

As this scandal unfolds, revealing a complex web of religious influence, political power, and financial intrigue, calls for transparency and accountability within both the church and law enforcement grow louder. The situation poses challenging questions about the intersection of faith and business enterprise in modern society.

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