The government has hit back at claims by the Church of Greece that its plans to build a solar park have been caught up in red tape by saying that the intended site is actually public land, which is due to be reforested. “State authorities challenge the ownership rights that the Pendeli Monastery claims to have,” the Environment Ministry said in a statement, which added that church officials have been informed that the land in question is listed as public forestland. “A prerequisite for the investment to go ahead is for the ownership issue to be settled,” said the ministry. The statement goes on to say that even if the ownership issue is resolved in favor of the monastery, which is located in northern Athens, then the question of whether the site in question is located is forestland also needs to be settled. The ministry said that the state had listed the area to be reforested following several wildfires between 1998 and 2009. Once land is set aside for reforestation, the law prevents any construction from taking place.
However, this rule has been broken repeatedly in the past. The Environment Ministry went on to point out that the monastery has not applied for a license to build on the land, suggesting that the Church may have been looking for favorable treatment from the government. A spokesman for the Church told Kathimerini on Monday that Archbishop Ieronymos had been encouraged to proceed with the plans for a solar park by previous Prime Minister George Papandreou and current Premier Lucas Papademos. Meanwhile, Ombudsman Calliope Spanou on Monday gave a deposition to financial prosecutor Grigoris Peponis in connection to the rents paid by her organization.
Peponis has launched an investigation into the rents paid by state bodies. The Ombudsman’s rent for offices owned by the Vatopedi Monastery, which is located on Mount Athos, is about 100,000 euros a month. Spanou said she has been asking since last year for the rent to be reduced but the government’s Land Service, which is responsible for the negotiations, has failed to deliver yet.