The Money Laundering Authority is conducting an investigation into suspicious transfers of money from abroad to individual accounts of monks of Mount Athos.
It has been quietly unfolding for the past year, with the case however taking a new turn after the start of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed by the West on individuals and legal entities linked to the Kremlin, which traditionally maintains close ties with the Athonian State.
A source with knowledge of the matter reveals that there are at least 20 transactions that were considered suspicious in the last twelve months and are being investigated by the Authority’s officers.
These are movements of large sums of money from banks and money transfer companies abroad, with the money ending up not in the accounts of monasteries that in the recent past have received visits from high-ranking Russian officials, but in the individual accounts of monks of Mount Athos.
Competent sources explain that the specific transactions were considered suspicious by the country’s credit institutions mainly because they involved transfers of unusually large sums of money, amounting to tens or even hundreds of thousands of euros. in one case, it exceeded one million euros, with the investigation however leading to the conclusion that the money was intended to finance a mission in Africa.
Sources familiar with the matter confirm that most of the money transfers under investigation involve funds originating from Russia. They also clarify that the money found deposited in the monks’ accounts does not come from legal or natural persons for whom, since last February, sanctions have been put into effect because of the war.
One of the scenarios being considered is that wealthy Russians chose to take their money out of Russia with the help of monks on Mount Athos in order to save their funds in the event of the collapse of their country’s financial institutions or the confiscation of their funds by the Kremlin because of the war. For the same reason, several Russians are said to have moved forward or expressed interest in purchasing real estate in Greece in recent months.
“No evidence has emerged capable of fully confirming information that wants the transactions to be part of a wider organized effort to infiltrate Russia into Mount Athos,” says a competent source. “This effort has been expressed mainly through business and even political circles”, he adds, referring to the recent indications of the US secret services about the transfer from Russia of 300 million dollars to parties and politicians in the period from 2014 onwards.
Apart from the Russian-origin funds, however, several of the deposits of money to the monks of Mount Athos under the microscope of the Anti-Money Laundering Authority have been made by persons in Balkan countries, mainly Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
*The article was originally published in the newspaper “Kathimerini”