Greece: Eco-cruise NGO officials charged over $4-million fraud probe

Fourteen people have been charged with fraud in Greece in a major investigation into a non-profit group that organized a series of environmental conferences on cruise ships attended by religious leaders and renowned experts.

Police and judicial authorities said Friday that 10 former executives of the now-disbanded Greek-based organization "Cycle of Patmos" and four of the suspects' relatives were charged with multiple counts of fraud and money laundering after €3 million ($4 million) was not accounted for in the group's financial records.

The group received state funding from Greece, and organized a series of major environmental events from the Arctic to the Mississippi, between 1997 and 2009, under an environmental interfaith initiative led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul, Turkey-based spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

The conferences attended by high-profile groups of religious leaders, scientists and activists served as a platform for dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches who agreed to work together on environmental issues a decade ago.

Police on Friday did not identify the 14 suspects.

"Sums of money were transferred from the bank account of the non-governmental organization to accounts of its members for the payment of personal loans, the operation of off-shore companies and property refurbishment," police said in a statement.

It said the suspects also allegedly charged the organizations with bogus and personal expenses, used its facilities as private property, and assigned projects to close associates without holding tenders.

A prosecutor heading the investigation recommended that further judicial action be taken to seize property owned by the suspects if they are convicted.