Greece Steps Up Corruption Fight

Former Greek defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos
Former Greek defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos

After securing 52.5 billion euros ($69 billion) in new loans from international lenders in a fight to keep the economy afloat, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras now faces a foe on another front – the country’s reputation for runaway corruption.  After generations of impunity, Greece has begun what seems to be a crackdown, although skeptics note that it could take years to prosecute major cases.

On the heels of a tax evasion scandal that led to an investigation into a former finance minister’s handling of a list of Greeks with secret Swiss bank accounts, the former mayor of Thessaloniki has been arrested for allegedly overseeing a scheme to steal more than 50 million euros from the city’s coffers.

Prosecutor Vassilis Haldoupis also filed charges against former Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos and Michalis Lemousias, former general secretary. Panayiotis Saxonis, former municipal treasurer, was also charged and another 15 suspects are being investigated.

The justice ministry has proposed legislation aimed at tax cheats who owe the country more than 52 billion euros ($69 billion) as well as public officials found to have unlawfully enriched themselves. Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras is proposing mandatory jail time for major tax cheats in a special prison for financial crimes.

Costas Bakouris, who heads the Athens office of Transparency International, said the arrest of municipal officials in Thessaloniki may be a watershed for Greece.  “What has changed is the commitment of the government to chase these kind of practices … the problem is how quickly they can do it because of the work overload in court and someone goes to jail,” he told Southeast European Times.

But, according to Aristides Hatzis, associate professor of law and economics at the University of Athens, it is difficult to change an ingrained culture where bribes are expected and prosecutions are rare.

“The probability to be punished for corruption is minimal … social tolerance to corruption is still very high,” he told SETimes. “Many acts that are considered unethical in most institutionally mature societies are treated as business as usual in Greece.”

Akis Tsochatzopoulos, a former defense minister, has been detained for almost 10 months awaiting trial on masterminding a scheme to steal and launder as much as 1 billion euros ($1.32 billion) from defense contracts. The government has jailed the former head of a bank that failed because of bad loans on charges of overseeing a scheme to steal from the institution.

But the country’s track record is still shaky, and many citizens remain unconvinced. A poll in January for Alpha TV found 52.7 percent of those surveyed said the government had failed to deal with graft. “I hope something is changing, but this has been going on for years and nobody said anything because they thought a politician could give them a job. Now there aren’t any,” Costas Gitras, 39, a liquor store owner, told SETimes.

Effi Lambropoulou, professor of criminology at Panteion University in Athens, told SETimes that while corruption is common, it can be curtailed. “It is very encouraging that such cases are going to be punished,” Lambropoulou said, noting the Thessaloniki case. “Party politics is a significant factor producing corruption, as well as overregulation, complex legislation, and ambiguities offering high discretionary power to local administrations.”

(Reprinted by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)


  • John G

    Force businesses to fill their fiscal statements by internet. Use the Belgium system where the vat number of a business B who purchase something from business A, needs to be stated on the invoice. This will also reduce tax cheats, where the government can better see the relationship between expenditure and sales. Better systems, mandatory formats to be used and follow up on cheaters, will bring Greece back on the road. Then this will result in respect. Until now, greece is way out still.

  • Mekima Kaityri

    Yes, your solution is an obvious one, Greece must modernise and make internet use cheaper and available to all. Unfortunately, Greece is still decades behind the developed world in regards to embracing technology. I read recently only 40% of Greeks use the internet, and I believe that is exaggerated, probably mostly used socially.
    The paper trail of the handwritten card system I experience in Government departments is incredibly time consuming. It wastes so much time and labour, and so open to error and wilful tampering and welcomes corruption. Instead of outcomes being immediate, one has to wait weeks, months and even years for results, also one is still expected to pay a bribe to get preferential speedier result. It wastes so much time and labour, and so open to error and wilful tampering and welcomes corruption.But, allas…, it employs people.

  • Tzak12345678

    Mekima everything in your blog is correct. The problem is not the system..nor it is the solution. We have an abundance of knowldege and expereince both within Greece and the Diaspora.

    The problem lies in the will of us Greeks as a collective to elect fellow Greeks that will implement the solution or even run for parliament ourselves. When over 30% of the population vote for for a chap that tells them that the crisis is somebody elss fault and a vote for him means back to the “good old days” (i.e. give a little gift to oneself is ok) then we face a uphill battle.

    Samaras is doing a good job considering he has to keep the union dominated workers content while trying to bring reform. If he brings reform to quickly then all these workers will go on strike collectively and literally send us back to the stone-age financially.

    In summary – The solution to our problems is not a technical one but a cultural on.

  • Savas

    While I don’t agree with everything you say I think you are on the right track!

    Reform does start with the institution of cultural capital!

    In other words providing clear, simple, instructions to the masses of the benefits to every citizen to provide their fair share/contribution (e.g. tax) to the state which will in return put the vast amount back into the social fabric (e.g. hospitals and health care, government services, education systems, etc.) and public infrastructure (e.g. roads, transport services, environment, etc.). 

    If the people clearly understand how their contribution BENEFITS every citizen this would change social and thus cultural peceptions. Dealing with political clientelism, nepotism, and the steep reduction of the public service would strongly enhance the masses trust in their political institutions.

    People don’t change attitudes and perceptions if they fail to see collective BENEFITS!

  • Pasok and ND Leaders are criminals who make one law for the citizens, while Parlimentarians do whatever they want ignoring ALL the LAWS and where not one of them has been prosecuted or punished yet for High Crimes against the State!

    Perfect EXAMPLE— WHY hasn’t Akis Tzahadsopolous been tried yet after a year waiting in jail (if he really is in jail) ?? Ha! I doubt it anyway knowing how this corrupt coalition government works!
    There is no Justice System here or free independent News Media in Greece .

  • Tzak12345678

    Agree…Agreee…Agreee

    The problem we have with the coalition governement is their inability to tell their story (vision/implementation/tangible evidence)… in a simple clear manner to the masses.

    Unfortnately for Greece and the Co-olition government Tsiparas has done his job well. He tells a great story that connects with alot of poeple i.e. how its everyone elses fault but ours we are in a crisis and if we vote for him its back to good old days.

    His evidence is all the confrontation politics he is performing (portrayed by the media) and his visual backing of striking workers. This communicates well with the masses and sets Tsiparas his mark with the people.

    Samaras doesnt have it easy if he shows that too much reform is going on the whole civil service and union oreinteted workers may go on strike.

  • Yiorgo Asimakis

    The corruption begins at the top without full transparency to the tax payer.  The Greek Guvernment must change its ways handeling investigations and Guvernment corruption allegations.   I believe that Mr. Artemis Sorras is on the right track by investing his own money into the country.