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Tuesday, November 24, 1998 Published at 19:56 GMT

World: Europe

Cyprus bishop resigns over corruption charges

Greek Orthodox Church has tremendous influence on the island

By Chris Drake in Nicosia

In Cyprus, one of the most powerful religious leaders on the island has been forced to resign in the wake of corruption charges against him by his own Greek Orthodox Church involving millions of dollars.

Bishop Chrysanthos of Limassol stepped down after the Church's governing body, the Holy Synod, held an emergency meeting and accepted his offer to resign.

The Church's charges against the bishop are also being investigated by the Cyprus police and are alleged to involve illegal financial deals in various parts of the world.

Allegations of his financial misconduct first surfaced during the summer when British police arrested four people in London who claimed he was their accomplice in a multi-million dollar fraud deal.

That triggered further investigations, revealing a series of other alleged get-rich-quick schemes in countries as far apart as the Philippines and Ecuador all suggesting the bishop played a central role.

Chrysanthos is one of only eight bishops on the island, where the Greek Orthodox Church wields tremendous influence, not least because it is the biggest landowner and handles business deals worth billions of dollars.

Bishop claims innocence

The bishop has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence but earlier this month three of his fellow bishops who headed the Holy Synod investigation produced a damning indictment of his activities.

Among the charges he faced was illegally using both his ecclesiastical position and the Limassol bishopric to sign documents for deals and act as a guarantor for loans.

In one trip to the Philippines, the indictment accuses him of suddenly coming into possession of assets worth $170m.

With criminal investigations continuing, the bishop's own future is uncertain.

Compensation demands

So too is the Church's legal position regarding claims by third parties demanding compensation for vast sums in lost investments.

The revelations have already shaken the Church's standing is Cyprus and started a debate on whether it is spending too much time in the pursuit of wealth at the expense of its spiritual role.

That is something which even a year ago would have been unthinkable.

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