A former close aide of Patriarch Irineos I told the Eleftherotypia daily on Sunday that the patriarch also sought to mortgage sensitive Old City lands to Israeli investors to help plug a financial black hole at the patriarchy.

In an interview with the Proto Thema weekly, convicted drug dealer Apostolos Vavylis, Greece's most wanted man, said he was sent on a "national mission" in 2001 to secure Irineos' election by Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of Greece's Orthodox Church.

"If I am elected, you will receive 400,000 dollars," Irineos was quoted as saying during a meeting with Christodoulos and Vavylis, according to the convicted fugitive. The money was never delivered, Vavylis said.

Christodoulos has flatly denied sending a representative to Jerusalem.

Politically sensitive

Irineos is at the centre of a land sale controversy involving politically sensitive lots in Jerusalem.

Israel's Maariv daily recently reported that foreign Jewish investors had paid millions of dollars for two large properties at Jaffa Gate in a secret deal with the Greek Church.

The Greek Orthodox Church owns
prime properties in Jerusalem

Irineos on Thursday denied the charge amid growing calls for his resignation from Arab Orthodox faithful and the patriarchy Synod's own first secretary, Archbishop Aristarhos of Konstantinis.

"There was no sale deal at all. If there was any transaction, it would have been done by unauthorised persons, and the patriarch will work on revoking it as null and void," he said.

The patriarchy has not seen any deeds claiming ownership by the alleged purchasers of the two properties at the main entrance to the Old City, a patriarchy spokesman told AFP.

But the figure allegedly at the centre of the scandal, a Greek who formerly worked at the patriarchy's finance department and who disappeared earlier this year, said in an interview on Sunday that Irineos was pushing for more property deals to help plug "a multi-million debt" in patriarchy finances.

'Fiscal chaos'

"Irineos inherited (fiscal) chaos from (his predecessor Patriarch) Diodoros," Nikolaos Papadimas told the Eleftherotypia daily.

"Our relations cooled when he told me to mortgage (church) property worth $130 million in order to secure a $50 million loan in Greece and rescue the patriarchy from debt."

Irineos I denies trying to sell Old
City lands to Jewish investors

Papadimas confirmed Irineos' claim that the two Jaffa Gate properties were not sold to Jewish investors. The properties, both of them hotels, were signed over in long-term leases, he said.

A church document obtained by AFP, dated 6 May 2004, shows that the patriarch granted Papadimas - now wanted by both the Greek authorities and Interpol - power of attorney to deal with all land-related matters.

Signed by Irineos and notarised by an Israeli lawyer, it gave Papadimas "the power and authority to make and sign lease contracts, long-term leases, agreements, lease deeds, applications, affidavits, notices, power of attorney and any and all documents which he may find necessary or useful".