Some of that has changed in the last year after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Capitalist leader, has – for political expediency and favor undoubtedly – unchained the financial watchdogs and let them go after some people, albeit easy targets like former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, whose corrupt soul was surpassed only by his arrogance.
Tsochatzopoulos was one of the founding member of the PASOK Anti-Socialists who almost single-handedly destroyed the Greek economy over the years with a kind of Chinese water torture, hiring anyone who voted for it until all the money was gone, even that borrowed from others the government had no intention of repaying.
But Samaras, knowing his party needed a sacrifice to even the score, went after former Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, a former European games 100-meter bronze medalist who couldn’t run fast enough with 51.4 million euros ($69.86 million) in saddlebags of embezzled money to escape a life sentence for his crimes.
He was a piker compared to Tsochatzopoulos, who stole so much money from defense contracts that one of those Chinese wizards with an abacus who’s faster at calculating than a Cray supercomputer couldn’t add it all up. We’re talking hundreds of millions of euros.
There’s a pattern to Greek graft, a line of stupidity that is masked by the hubris these wrongdoers have, along with the sense that stealing from the government isn’t really a crime and they’re shocked to discover when arrested that it is.
That explains why people with hundreds of millions of dollars and euros, almost always tucked away in foreign banks in secret accounts or laundered and put in offshore deposits, haven’t figured out it’s not a good idea to stick around in Greece instead of hightailing it to someplace like Switzerland, which hid Nazi gold and harbors all kinds of criminals while pretending to be above it all. If you put 10 million euros into a Swiss bank you also get some free chocolates.
How else can you explain why the former chairman of the failed state-owned Hellenic Postbank, Angelos Filippidis returned to Greece on Feb. 5 even as authorities were urging his re-arrest and extradition from Turkey where he had been initially taken into custody before being released by a court.
Filippidis’ lawyer said his client intended to co-operate with officials investigating a bad loan scheme at the bank of some 500 million euros, the proceeds given without collateral and even to heavily indebted people or companies, prosecutors said.
Immediately after his arrival at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, the Greek authorities arrested him as there was a pending arrest warrant against him for the Postbank scandal. He was taken to police headquarters in Athens.
He may have been pretty good at doling out free money to businessmen who wouldn’t pay back the bank even as it was sending out the dogs to collect from real workers struggling to meet their debts.
That was at the same time the government was cutting their pay, raising their taxes and slashing their pensions, but Filippidis wasn’t such a good fugitive because Turkish cops, with Greek help, tracked him on the cell phone he was using in Istanbul to call Greek TV to defend himself. This guy obviously doesn’t watch CSI or NCIS.
WE NEED MORE ENVELOPES
Police asked Swiss authorities to open Filippidis’ accounts at HSBC Private Bank, Banque Privee and other institutions as they seek to examine the origin of his wealth. Investigators found 14 million euros in various secret foreign bank accounts in Filippidis’ name and said he had 25,000 euros and a Swiss residency permit on him when first arrested, a nice escape kit so why was he in Turkey?
Here’s a better question: Why the hell return to Greece where, given the testy atmosphere and blood lust to hang the rich and corrupt who’ve been stealing from the public coffers through embezzlement, bad loans, state contracts or public favor that there’s a greater chance of finding yourself in jail instead of going to Switzerland?
I’m pretty sure I’d never steal any money, not because I’m honest enough to win the Diogenes Award but because I like sleeping at night without the possibility of hearing a knock on the door and seeing the police holding handcuffs. If I was on the take or crooked, it wouldn’t be for a hundred bucks, but Tsochatzopoulos territory money, enough to buy a private jet with orders to the pilot to go somewhere they don’t extradite and make sure I had enough cash to buy off the authorities wherever that was.
Either that or live in Switzerland with my ill-gotten gains because Swiss bankers and the government would rather be forced to admit they’re just as dirty and corrupt as the people whose money they hide than reveal anyone’s name or details of their bank accounts.
Another reason why Greece’s corrupt VIPS (you have to separate them from the run-of-the-mill tax cheats like doctors, lawyers, civil servants, driver’s license examiners and the like who always have their hands out for petty cash) stay in Greece after they’ve stolen the country blind is because they feel politically protected and could drop names if a cop showed up: an honest cop that is.
They think no one will ever find them. Take Filippidis. Imagine his chagrin when his feeble defense he was being politically persecuted was so transparent that even Greeks didn’t buy it.
He said he was being persecuted because he’s a friend of former Premier and previous New Democracy Conservative party leader Costas Karamanlis, the Pillsbury Dough Boy who lied about the economy, was so incompetent they could name an award for failure after him, and had a policy of zero tolerance on corruption: give his friends fakelaki, little envelopes with payoff checks with a lot of zeros after the first couple of numbers.
Filippidis didn’t explain why the current government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the current New Democracy leader, would want him singled out or not protect him since he’s a friend of Karamanlis, who, by the way, distanced himself from this meek defense faster than Papageorgopoulos could run toward money.
These people need crime lessons from Kyriakos Griveas and his wife Anastasia Vatsika who were accused of pocketing as much as 17 million euros in bad loans from the TT bank and put themselves up in London, and you can bet it wasn’t a third-floor cold water flat.
Greek authorities put out the All Points Bulletin and Interpol Red Alert for them and it wasn’t long before they were taken into custody – and released so fast you’d think there was a revolving door in the court.
They were freed on the equivalent of 61,000 euros bail each and restrictive conditions including that they surrender their passports as well as their children’s and must report to a police station three times a week, unless they disappear again.
You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to find Greece’s ultra-criminals because they hide in plain sight, as he liked to put it. But unless Griveas and Vatsika pull a Filippidis and come back to Greece thinking they can hoodwink everyone, check Switzerland.
It’s almost as nice as London and harbors more criminals than Athens’ Korydallos Prison.