Greek Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis, handpicked for the position by Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, said he will suspend himself from his duties during a reported investigation into alleged corruption by the country’s financial crimes squad SDOE of 32 government officials, including seven former ministers.
Meimarakis, who had been Defense Minister, Deputy Minister for Sports and New Democracy’s General Secretary, was named by the newspaper Kathimerini, along with former Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis and former Transport Minister Michalis Liapis as being linked to an ongoing investigation. All issued separate statements denying the reports.
The investigation has allegedly found the officials had large sums of money in their bank accounts for which they were unable to account. The government is stepping up attacks on tax evaders in an attempt to bolster ailing revenues at a time when the country is depending on international aid to keep afloat.
In a statement, Meimarakis said he would tell the Vice-Presidents of the Parliament to assume his work until the SOE findings are released. He met with Supreme Court prosecutor Yiannis Tentes, who is taking over the case. He did not say if he will continue to be paid. The statement reiterated that he had no involvement in any wrongdoing of any kind. “I am present and I will do whatever it takes for the truth to shine,” he stated, according to a report in Protothema on Sept. 24 as Greek journalists were holding a 24-hour strike, one of a number being staged against austerity measures.
Meimarakis said he wanted to be absolved and asked for the case to be expedited and said that a “sick situation” had been created by selective leaks against politicians. The investigation, he said, was creating a destabilizing atmosphere just as Samaras – who had put Meimarakis on a short list to be interim Premier in a former brief temporary government – is ready to put a package of $14.6 billion in cuts before the Parliament. International lenders are holding up disbursement of more loans until the Parliament passes the spending cut plan.
If the reports are accurate, Meimarakis would be the second former defense minister to be accused of corruption, along with Akis Tsochatzopoulos, a former stalwart in the PASOK Socialist party who is being held in jail on charges of leading a massive money-laundering scheme to steal more than 1 billion euros, or $1.29 billion, from defense contracts.
BIG BANK ACCOUNTS
Earlier, Kathimerini reported that the former ministers – four from PASOK and three from New Democracy – were leading the list of major government figures being hunted for evading taxes and making fortunes out of public service. New Democracy leader Samaras is overseeing an uneasy coalition with PASOK and the Democratic Left which is trying to finalize a plan to impose more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions primarily on workers, pensioners and the poor while tax evaders who owe the country $70 billion have largely escaped sacrifice.
Greeks are furious that the country’s politicians and rich elite have been unaffected by the economic crisis that has left nearly two million people out of work, closed 68,000 businesses and is shrinking the economy by 7 percent. The Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that is putting up $325 billion in two bailouts, has insisted on the austerity but failed to convince successive governments to crack down on tax evasion.
The Supreme Court asked prosecutors to look into reports that SDOE had a list of 32 politicians and public servants it was probing after discovering unusually large sums in their bank accounts. A parliamentary committee is due to meet on Sept. 26 – during a massive general strike against austerity – to discuss SDOE’s investigation and whether the House should also launch its own probe, although critics said similar investigations led by lawmakers whitewashed former colleagues of any wrongdoing.
In an interview with Sunday’s Kathimerini, the former head of SDOE, Yiannis Diotis – who was replaced by someone from Samaras’ home area of Messenia – said that he left behind “a lot” of case files relating to politicians when he was replaced at the department.
“There is a lot of material to be investigated,” he said. “There are detailed probes taking place that are of major interest and prosecutors are fully aware of what is going on.” Diotis said that some cases relate to arms procurement programs, fuel smuggling and medicines.
He denied, however, that there had ever been political interference in SDOE while he was in charge. “I will respond categorically and clearly: there was never any intervention, nor was any attempted,” he said.
Diotis accepted, though, that there was some level of corruption within the public administration and that new standards have to be set for civil servants. “Today, we have to rediscover the meaning of duty,” he said. “Civil servants have to follow one simple rule: To be the first to do exactly what they demand of others.”