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Calls to investigate Elam’s involvement in monk scandal

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The Russian church at Tamassos

The scandal surrounding the Osiou Avakoum monastery opened up a Pandora’s box among MPs by Thursday amid concerns of tax evasion, accusations of money laundering and questions as to why the far-right party Elam was present in the church operation against two monks.

Akel, Disy and Diko have all issued damning statements calling for an investigation on Elam party leader Christos Christou who currently has parliamentary immunity.

Akel tabled the matter to the House legal committee on Wednesday to discuss how police has handled the case. All parties supported the motion but for Elam.

“Neither men of the cloth or the far-right are above the law,” Akel charged.

The story sparked wave after wave of revelations after it emerged over the last week that two monks at the monastery in Fterikoudi village were allegedly found with €800,000 cash and caught on camera having sex with each other.

During the bust up at the monastery on March 5 when the monks were confronted with the ‘evidence’, the money box with the cash was transferred to the Tamassos bishopric to be counted.

Both Christou and former police chief Kypros Michaelides were present, with the latter saying “so what? I’m friends with the Tamassos Bishop Isaias.”

‘Blessings’ of the far-right

Nonetheless, the implication of Christou’s involvement has not gone unnoticed, as it sent a loud message that it appeared he was there on the orders of the bishop.

Christou himself said he was present as a member of the throne committee made up of clergy from the bishopric and lay people.

“How do police plan to investigate the involvement of Elam’s chairman on the case, taking into consideration he has parliamentary immunity?” Diko questioned.

Adding fuel to fire are reports that 30 individuals were present at the monastery on March 5 including allegations that some were hooded.

“Who are these hooded individuals and what is their connection with Elam?” Diko said.

The monks’ lawyers have cried foul, saying the two were set up and forced to sign confessions, arguing the footage against them has been doctored. It has also written to the president and anti-corruption authority, arguing the church and police are in cahoots together, as certain officers were there on Tamassos Bishop Isaias’ orders.

Police clarified two of its members were there to oversee security.

It also emerged on Wednesday that chairman of the bar association Michalis Vorkas was also present when the cash was counted. Speaking to Kathimerini, he declined to comment, saying he was there in his capacity as lawyer of the Tamassos bishopric.

‘Church is not above the law’

Akel MP Irene Charalambides argued the €800,000 should not have been taken to the bishopric. Instead, police should have confiscated it and kept it as evidence.

She also called on Cyprus’ money laundering unit Mokas to investigate the church.

“The state has a duty to uphold the law.”

She charged that Russian oligarchs make large donations, and questioned whether those transactions should raise red flags.

Charalambides were referring to the Tamassos bishopric, which is home to Cyprus’ first “Russian-style church”. The donations came from businessman Vyacheslav Zarenkov, who also built a planetarium in the vicinity.

The MP argued the church is not above the law.

Both monks have been referred to an ecclesiastical court which convened for the first session on Wednesday. Although the goal was to finish proceedings before Easter so as “not to scandalise the public” the volume of evidence which has emerged has made the task all but impossible, sources said.

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