Jerusalem Greek Orthodox Patriarchate: JNF fleecing us

JNF Photo: Eli Yitzhar

The Jewish National Fund, which lost $20 million to fraudsters, is demanding that the patriarchate, which was also cheated, return $13 million it never received.

The Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, has filed an affidavit in the Jerusalem District Court in which he accuses the Jewish National Fund (JNF), acting on behalf of the State of Israel, of attempting to force it to restore to the state millions of dollars that were stolen by Israelis who have been convicted of the theft, even though the Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court, have found that not a single cent of the money ever reached the Patriarchate.

The affair, which has not ceased to occupy the courts in Israel, began with a fraud perpetrated in 2000 by one Yaakov Rabinovitch. The JNF transferred to Rabinovitch and to Adv. Jacob Weinroth a sum of $20 million that was meant to be the consideration for a 999-year extension of a lease on land in Jerusalem owned by the Patriarchate. The land, more than 500 dunam (125 acres), is situated in the Rehavia and Talbieh neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and thousands of families live in the buildings on it.

It emerged that the signature of Patriarch Diodoros on the relevant documents was forged, that the money never reached the Patriarchate, and that the entire deal was a fiction. Weinroth had been deceived by Rabinovitch into believing that he could assist the families resident on the land by organizing a long-term extension of the lease that was due to expire in 2050. In criminal proceedings against two of those involved in the case, Rabinovitch and Benno Zussman, the Supreme Court found that the deal was a fraud, and that the Patriarchate had not received "a single cent". Rabinovitch and Zussman were jailed.

The JNF, however, refused to give up, and filed a claim for $13 million against the Patriarchate and the Patriarch for restoration of the money lost in the deal. In addition, the JNF is also suing those who perpetrated the fraud and stole the money that the state put up for the fictitious deal.

The Patriarchate argues that from the JNF's statement of claim it emerges that the JNF does not claim that any part of the money was actually transferred to the Patriarchate, but that it is nevertheless demanding that the Patriarchate should pay into the public purse money that was stolen from the state by others.

Now, 17 years after the fraudulent deal, JNF and the patriarchate are still far from settling the dispute. This month, following innumerable preliminary proceedings in the case, Theophilos has filed a statement to the court accusing JNF of attempting to take advantage of the patriarchate.

Theophilos makes serious allegations against JNF and the state in his statement, saying they are demanding that the patriarchate "compensate" JNF for money stolen from JNF by other parties. Among other things, he claims that he had never heard of Israel behaving as it has in this case, in which an attempt was made to steal the patriarchate's land by fraud. He alleges that the state is demanding that the patriarchate pay money stolen by others, despite not having received any money.

Among other things, Theophilos stated, "Consider a case in which an attempt was made to obtain by fraud land owned by a Jewish community in a foreign country, and that defrauded community neither agreed to sell the land nor received any money for it. Now assume that the authorities in that country demanded that the Jewish community pay a sum of money in order to "complete" the amount stolen from the state by the thieves (as a result of negligence on the part of the authorities who acted in the matter). We can only hypothesize about what the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the legal system, and the public in Israel would be in such a state of affairs."

According to Theophilos, the state's demand has caused him "great disappointment with the Israeli authorities." He asserts that the case is absurd, in which "The patriarchate, the victim of fraud… is to pay millions of dollars, and the thieves and the negligent parties will not have to pay more money."

JNF said in response, "What is involved is a civil action to enforce a 2008 agreement between JNF and the Patriarch, in which Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, undertook to return $13 million to the public treasury after a case of theft during the course of JNF's attempt to buy the Greek Patriarch's land for the citizens of Israel."

JNF continued, "At the time, it emerged in retrospect that the Patriarch had conducted negotiations with private businesspeople to sell the land. When the negotiations failed, he suddenly decided against signing the agreement, even though the terms had already been agreed in a final draft. JNF will continue to operate according to the law for the benefit of the residents of Israel."

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on September 26, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

JNF Photo: Eli Yitzhar
JNF Photo: Eli Yitzhar
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