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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Greek government on Monday axed a prominent private charity’s leadership following a string of allegations that children in its care were subjected to physical abuse by staff members.

The decision was made at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis into the scandal concerning the Ark of the World children’s charity, founded in 1998 by a charismatic Greek Orthodox priest in a depressed Athens neighborhood.

“The allegations are serious, particularly as they concern the extremely sensitive issue of children that have been removed from their family environment,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said. “These allegations must be fully investigated.”

A police and judiciary investigation is under way into allegations that some children in the organization’s homes around Greece were subjected to physical abuse in punishment for perceived misbehavior. One case involved alleged sexual assault by a charity functionary.

The Ark of the World, which hosts scores of children in five facilities, has denied the allegations.

The organization depends on private donations, and until the scandal broke, it enjoyed broad respect and extensive positive publicity for its work with children from troubled backgrounds and support for single or underprivileged parents.

Oikonomou said Monday’s government move to replace the entire administrative board was based on a law passed this year that reformed and more tightly regulated the operation of children’s charities.

He added the government’s priority is to move as many children as possible who are currently in institutional care to live with foster families. OIkonomou said over the past three years, some 40% of children living in institutional care have been placed with foster or adoptive families.