The political pressure over the ongoing monk scandal has escalated, with the attorney-general’s (AG) office appointing two investigators on Thursday to examine any criminal offences related to the case.

Meanwhile, MPs have called for the money laundering unit (Mokas) to investigate the church, amid new revelations about how the monks paid for social media posts to receive more cash.

Justice Minister Marios Hartsiotis pledged the government’s commitment to fully investigate the scandal, and strengthen the team looking into the case.

A statement said deputy AG Savvas Angelides appointed Ninos Kekkos and George Papaioannou to conduct an “objective investigation”, including police involvement “and that of other persons.”

Now, a week after the news broke of two monks embroiled in a sex and cash scandal, it has emerged that far-right Elam party leader Christos Christou and former police chief Kypros Michaelides were involved. Serious allegations against (Mokas) and the police have also surfaced.

Disy MP Demetris Demetriou said it was unfathomable that when a safe box containing €800,000 in cash was found at the Osiou Avvakoum monastery, it was transferred to the Tamassos bishopric to be counted, instead of being handed over to the police.

All-powerful church

Demetriou said the €800,000 found was a lot of money to have come solely from donations, especially bearing in mind the property found under the monks’ name, and other investments carried out in the area by the monastery.

“There may have been donations made to the monastery for money laundering” he told AlphaNews.

Under the current tax rules, the church is obliged to declare money from its business operations, but declaring donations is far less stringent. A declaration is usually made from the donating party for tax relief purposes, as the church is classed under the charities law.

Akel MP Irene Charalambides told the Cyprus Mail it is high time the church is investigated for money laundering. “Russian oligarchs have been donating money, and no one has checked to see if this money is clean or not.”

Charalambides was 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.

“There are churches, planetariums – have we checked if this money is clean? Or is it because it’s church we didn’t check it?”

She specified the history with Jho Low is all the more reason to investigate the church. Low is a Malaysian businessman who donated €300,000 to the church and in return, the archbishop helped him receive a Cypriot passport.

Asked if Mokas could be trusted with the investigation bearing in mind complaints made on money laundering oversight, Charalambides was concise:

“This is the only body we have to investigate money laundering.”

Two sources close to the church also supported the idea of having Mokas investigate the source of money, however pointed out that Tamassos Bishop Isaias has changed his views on Russia and placed himself in favour of the independence of Ukraine’s church. It is understood they were saying this may make his bishopric a less favourable destination for Russian money – though it is still home to the Russian church.

Questions over police

Police clarified that during the operation to transfer the box of €800,000 to the bishopric, two officers were present for security purposes.

Demetriou argued “it is unfathomable that neither Mokas nor the police have seized the box of money. In fact, they actually accompanied the process. They accompanied hooded individuals, vehicles without number plates.”

He was referring to the presence of hooded figures during the money transfer operation, which many suspect are Elam members.

Akel MP Irene Charalambides long-raised alarms over the matter, saying police had a lot to answer for.

“This whole fiasco which began with one monastery is a disgrace for an EU state.

“The church in Cyprus is all-powerful. It is financially powerful with political influence meaning it can affect votes…All this protection around the church is not coincidental.”

Demetriou added “the church can no longer continue to have this asylum.”

Returning to the police’s responsibility, he specified police have the ability to look into an individual bank note and see the history of this money to better trace whether it came from an innocent donation or money laundering.

A business enterprise

Earlier in the day, Akel sought to table to the House interior committee the topic of financial exploitation of religious faith.

Nonetheless, this was shut down by Disy, Diko, and Edek.

Akel cried foul over political parties “refusing to discuss these unethical and illegal practices.”

Nonetheless, Disy countered that the topic is already under discussion in parliament.

Leaked videos showed of one of the two monks throwing a woman to the ground and beating her with a belt, as well as both men of the cloth crafting fake religious ‘miracles’.

A source close to the church told the Cyprus Mail that the two monks would have paid advertisements on social media in Greece offering a slew of ‘miraculous’ services including reading out a faithful’s name with the promise of God’s good will.

For those abroad, the monks would share bank details so that people could transfer the money.

“A lot of their income also came through Greece,” the source said.