ATHENS – Greece’ Anti-Money Laundering authority has frozen the personal bank accounts of the former leader of a children’s charity being investigated for alleged sex abuse, as well as those of his wife and family members.
Avgi daily reported Ark of the World (Kivotos tou Kosmou) collected more than 27.5 million euros ($28.51 million) in donations and controlled around 280 premises across the country, from which its former head, Father Antonio Papanikolaou and some other senior executives allegedly embezzled money
The charity also reportedly hosted and cared for fewer children than it claimed in its records. The investigation will likely lead to the freezing of over a dozen more bank accounts, it said, as the probe widened.
The head of the authority, former deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court Charalambos Vourliotis, ordered that the bank accounts of Father Antonios, his spouse, and his parents be frozen. His father, even though deceased, still has a bank account in his name, said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency ANA-MPA.
The bank accounts were frozen so that they might be carefully inspected and to avert possible transactions, such as withdrawals and transfers. The accounts of the charity itself, which operates homes for children, have not been frozen as this could impact its day-to-day operation, the report said.
The government has replaced the entire board. The finances of the charity are now run by the new administrative board. The finances will be carefully monitored, whether this concerns donations or anything else.
Father Antonios and the charity came under scrutiny following allegations that he and other staff members of the charity had been abusing the children in their care, prompting an investigation and action by the state
One 19-year-old told police that he was allegedly sexually molested by a senior charity official, according to media reports. One former staffer said that he was fired after speaking out after a co-worker allegedly beat three boys.
Others have claimed that charity executives demanded monetary donations instead of clothes and food, and lived lives of luxury, said Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The charity had been claiming to have some 500 children in its care, but Deputy Social Affairs minister Domna Michailidou told To Vima daily that the actual number was 136.
“(The children) are safe,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Alpha TV calling the case “complicated,” but assuring they are not at risk.
“We are interested in seeing what happened as regards to the finances. Because these are facilities that handled large sums of money, primarily from private donations,” Mitsotakis said.
Father Antonios, who founded the charity, has worked with children from underprivileged Greek and migrant families since 1998, has dismissed the claims and isn’t being detained as of now.
“It’s not possible. This cannot have happened. I never harmed a child,” he was quoted as saying by Star TV.
The head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, said that Papanikolaou was “solely responsible” for running the charity and that he “never consented” to cooperate with church welfare officials.
Among the allegations being investigated are at least two cases of sexual abuse, beating, and neglect by employees and executives of the charity, media reports also said of the growing case.