After 18 years of a legal battle between the Ateret Cohanim association and the Greek Patriarchate, on Sunday morning, members of the association took possession of the Petra Hotel near the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ha’aretz reported.
In June 2019, The Jerusalem District Court ruled that Ateret Cohanim had legal rights over three large areas in strategic locations in the Old City of Jerusalem, currently populated by mostly Arab residents. In 2004, three foreign real estate companies signed under a veil of great secrecy three different contracts with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate which owned the assets.
The publication of the deal in 2005 led to a crisis in the Greek Church in Jerusalem, which ended in unprecedented dismissal of the patriarch Irenaios Skopelitis. His successor, Theophilus III, tried to deny the deal and cancel it, but the Supreme Court upheld it.
In the first transaction, Berisford Investments Limited purchased a lease for the Petra Hotel, a four-story building located at Omar Ibn al-Hatab Square, between the Jaffa Gate and the Arab market. It is a 99-year lease, with an option for another 99 years.
In the second transaction, under similar lease terms, Richards Marketing Corporation acquired the adjacent two-story Imperial Hotel, with the stores below.
In the third transaction, Gallow Global Limited acquired the rights to a structure called Beit Azmiya, in the Bab a-Khuta neighborhood of the Old City.
Ateret Cohanim, which deals with the redemption of land in Jerusalem, is credited with locating the assets and negotiating for their purchase.
In recent years, Ateret Cohanim has been waging a legal battle against the Kirsch family, which rents the Petra Hotel from the patriarchy and runs it. On Sunday morning, the association’s officials, accompanied by police, entered the first floor of the hotel.
The Church, which was humiliated by the revelations of the three spectacular purchases, initially denied they had ever been signed by Patriarch Irenaios Skopelitis and that any monetary consideration was received in exchange for them. Then the same church claimed the director of its finance department had acted without authorization when he made the sale.
Judge Gila Kanfi-Steinitz, deputy head of the Jerusalem district court, ruled in 2019 that there is no dispute that Irenaios had the authority to enter into agreements on behalf of the Church and that there is no doubt that the director of the church’s finance department who signed the agreements acted as his proxy.
Judge Knafi-Steinitz also ruled that “the plaintiffs did not provide sufficient proof on the required level to their claims of bribery or corruption that underlie the transactions. Therefore, the result is that it is necessary to determine that the three transactions are valid,” she concluded.
The judge also ruled that “there is no disputing the fact that the plaintiffs were paid the full consideration for the transactions.”