Mafia linked to sex attack claim facing British cleric

Author: Philip Jacobson and Jessica Berry
Date Published: 06/17/2001

June 17, 2001 (ET) — French intelligence agents are investigating the circumstances surrounding the sudden resignation of the British cleric who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Nice.

Bishop Paul stepped down last month after being charged with committing a serious sexual offence against a young boy from Britain whom he had invited to spend Christmas at his official residence. France’s equivalent of MI5, known as the DST, intervened in the case after the bishop, who was charged in the name of Peter Alderson, had vehemently denied the allegations.

They suspect that his downfall after almost a decade in office might have been engineered by members of the Russian mafia operating from their luxurious Cote d’Azur villas. Officials close to the investigation told The Telegraph that gangsters with known links to the Kremlin’s secret services were believed to be behind repeated death threats made against Bishop Paul, 58, and close associates after he refused to co-operate with their plans to launder money through his Church administration.

The DST has been monitoring the activities of these “Black Russians” – nicknamed for the illegal fortune that they amassed back home – for the past decade and has been attempting to enlist at least one member of the diocesan staff to watch the more insalubrious members of the congregation that worships at St Nicholas Cathedral in Nice.

The allegation against Bishop Paul, who took holy orders in the Russian Church in 1989 after his French wife of Russian descent died, was brought by the boy, whom he had befriended during a visit from his French home to Britain in March 1999. The boy, then aged 11 and the product of a broken home, was being cared for by an elderly female relative who had become increasingly concerned about his anti-social behaviour.

After meeting the bishop, the relative pleaded with him to help the troubled boy. After his return to Nice, lawyers in France claimed that she wrote to suggest that the boy should spend a few days there in the hope that he could be encouraged to mend his ways. Lawyers in Nice said that when the boy, who is of Jamaican descent, returned home after Christmas 1999 he complained to his local police station that he had been sexually abused while watching a cartoon film on a bed with the bishop beside him.

The relative said: “The child was an altar boy and Bishop Paul was preaching one Sunday in England. He [the bishop] asked to speak to [the boy] and it was agreed that he would go and stay. I said that he could after I asked a few people about him [the bishop]. They all said he was very nice. When [the boy] came back from France, he said that he had something to say and that we had to go to the police.”

Since returning from Nice, the boy has been in Britain, where he attends a special needs school. He sees his elderly relative at weekends. The complaint was routinely forwarded by Scotland Yard to the French judicial authorities through Interpol and eventually arrived on the desk of Philippe Dorcet, a senior investigation magistrate in Nice.

Mr Dorcet, a Russian mafia specialist, formally notified Bishop Paul that he was under investigation for “sexual aggression against a minor by a person in authority” and last month instructed police to question him. During the nine-hour interrogation, the bishop was questioned about entries in a diary that he had voluntarily handed over, which spoke of his anguish at being unable to overcome “a frantic quest for bodily pleasures”.

He insisted that these passages referred to the era before he became a priest when he was married. “I was simply revisiting that period of my life,” he told the police. Eric Borghini, the bishop’s lawyer, and other confidants are convinced that, perhaps unwittingly, the boy was used by Bishop Paul’s mafia enemies to ruin him. The bishop is in hiding outside France for “security reasons”.

As Mr Borghini explained, the Church in Russia has been comprehensively infiltrated by the mafia with the connivance of corrupt senior government officials who want to bring it under Moscow’s control. He said: “Nice is by far the wealthiest diocese in the West, with 30,000 adherents and properties worth millions of francs. The Russians want to get their hands on this, and also to open up a new avenue to launder money by sending ‘huge donations’ to the Church here that will then pass into the pockets of fellow racketeers.”

As proof of Moscow’s intentions, Bishop Paul’s defenders point to visits to St Nicholas by senior Russian political figures, among them the mayor of Moscow and others close to President Putin. They readily acknowledge, however, the difficulty of accounting for the involvement of a young boy with no known connections in Russia or France in such a sinister conspiracy.

Admirers of Bishop Paul, who bear witness to his exceptional devotion to ordinary parishioners and charitable causes, are resentful that he has been forced to leave. On the steps of the cathedral last week, some worshippers were overheard muttering about a plot hatched by godless communists masquerading as democrats to get rid of a good man who had become a thorn in their side.