Greece: 3 former ministers face land swap charges

Greece's parliament voted early Wednesday to indict three former ministers over a series of real estate deals between the state and a wealthy monastery, which blew up into a major political scandal.

Lawmakers voted for the three ex-ministers who served in the previous conservative government to face charges of breach of faith. A proposal by the governing Socialists for similar charges to be brought against another two former ministers, also in office between 2004 and 2009, was rejected.

All five former officials denied any wrongdoing, and accused the Socialists — elected just over a year ago — of acting out of political motivation.

The vote came after a lengthy probe into land swaps between the state and the Greek Orthodox monastery on the autonomous Mount Athos monastic community in northern Greece. Investigators said that the exchange was weighted in favor of the 1,000-year-old Vatopedi monastery, and cost taxpayers at least €100 million.

The matter came to parliament because under Greek law it is the only body that can decide whether government officials can be prosecuted.

Two ministers lost their jobs over the swaps, which the conservative government canceled, acknowledging that they had hurt the public interest.

But the scandal monopolized public debate for months and largely contributed to the conservatives' heavy defeat in last year's national elections.

The current government has launched legal action against the monastery, seeking €10 million in damages and confirmation of its ownership on all the land it claims in the dispute. An Athens court is due to discuss the lawsuit in January.