By DANIEL ESTRIN
Secretive real estate deals in the Holy Land are putting one of Jerusalem’s most powerful and ancient churches in the spotlight.
The Greek Orthodox Church calls itself the second-largest landowner in Israel, after the Israeli government. It says it owns some 30 percent of Jerusalem’s walled Old City, the city’s historic core, and controls the largest stake of any Christian denomination in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, home to the traditional tomb of Jesus. It also owns lands throughout Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank.
But in recent years, church leaders have quietly sold off several properties to anonymous investors fronted by companies registered in far-flung tax havens. Israeli and Jewish businessmen were later identified as some of the buyers.
These deals have only recently become public, raising panic among Israelis whose apartments are built on church land and leading to small but growing public protests by some Palestinian church members.