2020-06-08 10:20:00

Alexander Metochion's handover to Russia being registered at Israeli Justice Ministry, decision to be made within month

Moscow, June 8, Interfax - The handover of the Alexander Metochion to Russia is being registered at the Israeli Justice Ministry, the court has dismissed the lawsuits challenging it, Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS) Chairman Sergey Stepashin said.

"[It] is now being registered at the Israeli Justice Ministry. It turns out that another three IOPS 'replicas', - from Germany, Israel, and the U.S., - tried suing us, but the court dismissed their lawsuits," Stepashin told Interfax.

The issue should be resolved in a month, he said.

Answering a follow up question whether he thinks the decision is to be made in Russia's favor, Stepashin said, "God is with us, I think, don't hope, I am confident."

The IOPS collected documents and submitted them to the Israeli Justice Ministry to register the Alexander Metochion as Russia's property several years ago. They were expected to be returned on March 1.

A lawsuit seeking to cancel the registration was lodged shortly before the registration was finalized, Stepashin said.

A temporary ban on the handover, enacted by the Jerusalem District Court, will not affect Russia's plans to ensure that its ownership of the Alexander Metochion is reinstated, he said.

The Alexander Metochion, an archeological and architectural complex, is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, right near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The land on which it is located was purchased by Russia in 1859.

The compound was built by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society in 1896.

The controversy surrounding its ownership began after the revolution of 1917. In 1918, the head of the society, Prince Alexey Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, fled Russia, as most of the society's members did at that time. Shirinsky-Shikhmatov arrived in Berlin, and the society resumed operating there.

At present, two different organization of the same name - Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society - exist separately in Russia and in Germany. In 1992, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation approved a resolution on "the restoration of the historical name of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society." The Justice Ministry then recognized it as a successor to the Soviet Palestine Society and to the historical society.

The German society is led by Nikolay Worontsow-Hoffmann, the Russian one by Stepashin, a former head of the Accounts Chamber. Currently, the metochion is occupied by Worontsow-Hoffmann's organization, which is registered in Munich. Stepashin's organization is contesting the ownership of the metochion. According to Worontsow-Hoffmann, before they left Palestine in 1948, the British authorities confirmed the society's right to all related property in the Holy Land.

On January 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a working visit to Israel. Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the mother of Israeli citizen Naama Issachar, who was convicted for drug smuggling in Russia and whose release the Israeli authorities were seeking. On January 29, Issachar was pardoned by Putin, and Netanyahu took her to Israel the next day.

Israeli media linked Issachar's pardon to the possible transfer of the ownership of the Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem to Russia.