Rene — Greek bishop is accused of hiring hit-man to kill Patriarch

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Greek bishop is accused of hiring hit-man to kill Patriarch
By Neil Barnett
The Telegraph
May 18, 2003
A Greek Orthodox bishop is to be charged under anti-terrorism laws
in Athens for allegedly plotting to murder the head of the ancient
Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Bishop Timotheos of Vostra is accused of offering to pay a hit-man
$500,000 (£354,000) to have his clerical rival, Patriarch Irenaios,
According to Irenaios’s lawyer, Timotheos offered the money to a
Palestinian radical, Yusaf Naim al-Mufti. He was said to be angry that
he had lost out to Irenaios in the 2001 election to become patriarch –
one of the most sought-after roles within the Greek Orthodox Church.
Last week, the Athens criminal prosecutor announced that Timotheos
would be charged with forming a criminal gang. The bishop, who is in
charge of the Patriarchate’s finances, has denied the allegations.
“This case is unfair and I will defend myself because I am not
guilty,” he said. “I never thought of doing something bad, especially
not murder.”
The secretive Jerusalem Patriarchate, which administers about 100,000
Christian Arabs, is believed to be one of the richest churches in the
world. As the second-largest landowner in Israel after the government,
its holdings include land around the Israeli parliament. Patriarch
Irenaios was told about the alleged plot in February by Zouzer
al-Manasrah, the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence chief, after
al-Mufti was arrested and held at Ramallah police station on an
unrelated theft charge.
Mr al-Manasrah said that al-Mufti had volunteered details of the murder
deal he had struck with Timotheos in 2001, apparently while the bishop
was on “charitable business” in the West Bank town of Beit Jala.
The Telegraph has obtained a transcript of al-Mufti’s statement
to the Palestinian intelligence service. The document, classified
“Top-Secret”, quotes al-Mufti as saying: “Timotheos came to my house
in Beit Jala and told me, ‘I want you to find some persons in Bethlehem
to murder Irenaios’.”
Timotheos proposed $500,000 as the fee he would pay for the murder,
according to the document. However, the first man al-Mufti approached
was unable to carry out the job because he became caught up in the
Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and was
“He was hidden inside the church and after some days he escaped and
was wanted by the Israelis,” al-Mufti said. “After a while he was
arrested and there was no communication between us.”
He then described how Timotheos insisted that he find another murderer,
and how he eventually recruited a criminal gang leader in Bethlehem.
“He told me they were going to finish the job in Jerusalem where
they could assign the murder to narcotics traders and users,”
said al-Mufti. Before this could be done, however, al-Mufti was
arrested by the Palestinian authorities on a theft charge. He told
his interrogators: “I was a simple mediator.”
Emil Jarjoui, a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian
Authority and its senior official for religious affairs, said that
he had met Patriarch Irenaios to confirm details of the alleged plot.
“It was referred to me by the people responsible for security within
the Palestine Liberation Organisation, who told me that there was an
attempt to murder Patriarch Irenaios and they were investigating it,”
he said.
“They told me that the person alleged to be responsible was in jail,
his name is al-Mufti. I informed the Patriarch and he informed the
Consul General of Greece. It is a very serious matter.
“The man in jail was meant to receive money to pay for the
assassination of the Patriarch, but he did not receive any – and the
bishop who is supposed to have offered it denies it completely. We
are awaiting the finding of the court in Greece.”
A spokesman for the Patriarch declined to comment, saying that Irenaios
wished to remain silent until the Greek court had reached a verdict.
Patriarch Irenaios has been a controversial figure since his election
in 2001. The Israeli government refuses to recognise him as the Greek
Orthodox Church’s leading official, viewing him as too close to the
Palestinians. An old photograph of Irenaios with Yasser Arafat has
helped to reinforce this belief.